If there’s one thing that defines Sidney Crosby’s approach to hockey, it’s got to be his combination of work ethic and attention to detail. So, training camp seemed like a good time to pick the star Pittsburgh Penguins center’s brain about one aspect of his game: his speed.
Crosby a couple times during the course of the offseason mentioned that speed was one of things he wanted to maintain to keep up with the rest of the NHL. So we had questions Sunday after Crosby completed his duties on the ice at the UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex.
The first thing he wanted to make clear was what he meant when he mentioned speed.
“I think I said I want to stay fast,” he said.
Crosby turned 32 last month. Not old, but not 22 anymore, either.
Growing up, Crosby annually went to a power skating summer camp in Charlottetown, PEI. He dove into the drills, some of them pretty challenging, to develop the best skating technique possible. His analytical mind knew during his early years in the NHL why he was one of the stronger, faster skaters.
Given that – in addition to how fascinating it can be to get a look at the inner workings of Crosby’s hockey mind — what could he do in his second decade in the NHL to work on his speed and technique. Somehow find a more explosive first step? Tweak his muscle makeup?
“I think you just focus on it, get reps,” Crosby said. “It’s not any different than you working on your shot or anything else. It’s just something that you focus on and try to get a lot of reps.”
That’s not the most technical answer, but it’s clear that skating speed is important to Crosby, who over the years sometimes famously focused on a particular aspect of his game during the summer, such as faceoffs or his shot.
Maybe 2019 wasn’t specifically the summer of speed work for Crosby, but he made it clear how much it matters to his game so that he can continue to perform at a level that might help the Penguins add to the three Stanley Cups he has won as the team captain.
“I just feel like as you get older it just becomes more of a point of emphasis,” he said of speed. “Some things come a little easier than others, and I think you have to focus on skating. It’s become such a skating game. It’s north-south. There’s not a lot of pulling up and making plays. Sometimes you’re not even thinking a whole lot – it’s north-south. Right through everyone’s lineup it’s all speed. It’s just a point of emphasis.”
Whatever gains Crosby might have made in outskating Father Time, they happened during the offseason. It’s not something that he’s working on specifically in the preseason. Not that he has looked slow during the first three days of training camp. He’s flying around as usual. And it’s not as if Crosby worked on his speed to the detriment of other components of his game. You should have seen his slick touch pass to linemate Dominik Kahun during Sunday’s scrimmage.
“In training camp you’re more working on timing and that kind of thing,” he said. “You put your work in in the summer as far as your individual stuff that you want to improve on, but once you get into camp it becomes more about the games and the timing, the way the team wants to play, that kind of thing. So that’s why you take the opportunity to work on it when you have your own time to do stuff.”
That was pretty much all Crosby was willing to offer on the speed topic. He balked when asked about his speed now vs., say, 10 years ago. Addressing that kind of comparison could open him up to his speed being overly analyzed all season.
“I shouldn’t even have brought it up, because now you’re going to be looking at how fast I am now compared to then. I should keep things to myself sometimes,” he cracked.
The age question, however, is not likely to subside. Three other prominent Penguins over 30 – center Evgeni Malkin, defenseman Kris Letang and winger Patric Hornqvist – have talked in the past week about the Penguins facing a window of perhaps three to five years to win more Cups with the team’s current core players.
Crosby isn’t worried about any such window.
“I don’t think any of us can predict that,” he said. “Every year there’s so much that changes. Anything can happen over the course of the year. We probably weren’t talking about a championship team in December of ’16, but we found a way to win, right?
“I think you just approach it a year at a time. You prepare to be at your best. As a team you want to win the ultimate prize no matter how old you are. It’s up to everyone else to decide what the window is and speculate on that. The way we train and the expectations on us, they’re always going to be there.
“For me personally, it doesn’t motivate me or push me any harder to know that I’ve got (let’s say) a four-year window. I think it’s a challenge every year. That’s enough. That’s what you focus on.”
Well, and maybe that speed thing.