OK. The first time Sidney Crosby unleashed one of his wicked backhanders at Arizona goaltender Darcy Kuemper Saturday night, point blank no less, Kuemper gloved it. The odds didn’t seem to be with the goaltender in on the second such try by the Pittsburgh Penguins captain.
“Yeah, seriously,” Crosby’s linemate Dominik Simon said.
Crosby found a sliver of room between Kuemper and the post to roof a backhander for the Penguins’ first goal – and his team-leading eighth this season — in a 4-0 win at PPG Paints Arena that shelved a five-game losing streak.
“There’s not even too much space, and he just hits it,” Simon said.
Crosby also had an assist, a pass to set up Brian Dumoulin’s first goal this season and the capper to this game. The backhanders were his only two shots, but he did a lot more.
He won eight of his 13 faceoffs and even blocked three shots.
Still, there was more. With the Penguins trying to break that losing streak and after a scoreless first period, coach Mike Sullivan began a double-shift of sorts with Crosby.
At times, he was with Simon and Bryan Rust, as it was in the beginning of the game. And at times he took Riley Sheahan’s spot between Jake Guentzel and Phil Kessel.
“I think when you’re in the situation that we’ve been in, I think it’s just next guy up, let’s go over (the boards) and make something happen,” Crosby said. “If we all have that mentality it doesn’t matter who we’re playing with, we’re going to create momentum. I feel like everyone just has to accept whoever they’re out there with and make sure they’re doing the right things all over the ice. I thought regardless of who we played with we had some pretty good momentum from every line.”
Sullivan noted Crosby’s level of play – “He was hanging onto pucks. He was playing the game we’ve all grown accustom to watch,” he said – and decided to use him in dual roles.
“I’m trying to manage his minutes at the same time but keeping that in mind I try to use him situationally. If I can put him with Jake and Phil I look for opportunities to do that. … He’s an elite player. He makes the players better around him.”
Even with the rotating line assignments, Crosby played just 16:54.
His teammates thought they were high-quality minutes.
“He led by example,” said Rust. “That’s what great leaders do when their team needs it the most. I think we all just followed suit.”
Not that his teammates could be expected to replicate Crosby’s dead-aim backhander.
“I think that’s become fairly routine (for him),” Rust said.