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Penguins Room: Crosby’s ‘Remarkable’ Feats; Nedeljkovic Dazzles

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Sidney Crosby

NEW YORK — Thousands of men have played in the NHL.

Until Monday night, exactly one of them, Wayne Gretzky, had averaged at least a point per game for 19 seasons.

That list doubled in size during the final minute of the Pittsburgh Penguins’ 5-2 victory over the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden, when Sidney Crosby scored into an empty net for his 82nd point of 2023-24.

“Anytime you can be in that company, it’s pretty cool,” Crosby said.

That’s a vintage Crosby understatement. Sure, he’s done lots of incredible things since entering the NHL in 2005, but to do so much, so well and for so long is nothing shy of extraordinary.

“To perform at an elite level for as long as he has is remarkable,” Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said. “His body of work speaks for itself.”

Fittingly, the goal that sealed Crosby’s latest entry in the record book began with a selfless play in the defensive zone as the Penguins were protecting a 4-2 lead, when he put his body in front of a shot from New York winger Artemi Panarin.

Crosby then chased the puck into the neutral zone and carried it into the Rangers’ end before tossing it into the net.

“That’s a big block at the end of the game,” Penguins goalie Alex Nedeljkovic said. “Obviously, that (goal) doesn’t happen if he doesn’t suck it up and get in the (shooting) lane and make himself big.”

Crosby, typically, spoke matter-of-factly about how the history-making sequence played out.

“Panarin tried to get a shot through, and I was able to get a block,” he said. “Luckily, they had been on for a while, 6-on-5, so I had some room to take it down and put it in.”

And, in the process, to scrawl his signature in the record book yet again.

“All of these milestones that he’s reaching at this point are just more evidence that he’s one of the greatest players of all time, not just of his generation,” Sullivan said. “He’s in elite company in all of these categories.”

 

Alex Nedeljkovic

Alex Nedeljkovic was expected to get the night off, to watch Tristan Jarry make his first start since March 22 in Dallas.

But when he got to the arena a few hours before the game, Nedeljkovic learned that Jarry was ill and wouldn’t be able to play against the Rangers.

In fact, after Jarry went through warmups, he actually was an official scratch, which meant the Rangers’ emergency backup goalie had to be ready to step in if Nedeljkovic had to leave the game.

Unfortunately for the Rangers, that never happened.

Nedeljkovic, making his fifth consecutive start, stopped 28 of 30 New York shots and repeatedly frustrated one of the NHL’s most volatile and prolific offenses.

“We knew it was going to be a tough test, even if we were at 100 percent,” Nedeljkovic said. “That’s a really good hockey team over there.”

Although Nedeljkovic said that his pregame routine didn’t change when he learned that he’d be starting — “You prepare the same way, whether you’re playing or not,” he said. “There’s nothing really different.” — Sullivan noted that being informed so close to gametime that he’d be starting can be difficult.

“For (Nedeljkovic) to get the call late like that, that’s never an easy thing,” he said. “For any player, never mind the goaltending position.”

But if that was an issue for Nedeljkovic, it never showed.

“He’s playing with a lot of confidence right now,” Bryan Rust said. “He made some huge saves for us. Anytime you can get those saves, you have a guy who has that swagger, it builds confidence throughout the lineup.”

Bryan Rust

Illness forced the Penguins to make a number of personnel adjustments going into the game, but that wasn’t all that was daunting about what they faced Monday night.

The Rangers, after all, are atop the NHL’s overall standings, and Madison Square Garden can be a hostile venue for visiting clubs.

“There was a lot of uncertainty going into that game,” Rust said. “We’re in a position where we need every win. Playing against a really good team in a really hard building to get wins in.”

Of course, it helps when your team’s lineup includes Crosby, Rust’s frequent linemate.

“He puts in the work, each and every day,” Rust said. “You can tell why he’s been so good, for so long.”

Mike Sullivan

Tristan Jarry wasn’t the only Pittsburgh Penguins player affected by illness Monday.

Defenseman John Ludvig had to be scratched after making a brief appearance during warmups, opening a spot for Ryan Shea. And while Drew O’Connor was able to dress for the game, he felt poorly enough that Mike Sullivan replaced him on the No. 1 line with Reilly Smith.

Smith was the only member of the line who didn’t score — Crosby and Rust had two each — but he picked off a pass by Rangers defenseman Jacob Trouba on the first shift of the game, triggering a sequence that ended with Rust putting the Pittsburgh Penguins in front to stay just 18 seconds after the opening faceoff.

“I thought (Smith) played real well,” Sullivan said. “It was probably one of his better games of late. Obviously, when you play with Sid and (Rust), there’s an expectation. I thought he rose to the challenge.”

He also praised Emil Bemstrom, whose breakaway goal midway through the third period gave the Penguins a short-lived 3-0 lead and snapped a 15-game goal-less streak.

“I’m hopeful that it will certainly help his confidence,” Sullivan said. “He’s a really talented player. He’s got a lot of skill. I think there’s a lot more to his game, especially offensively. He can shoot the puck. I know that was one of the things that attracted our group to him in the first place.

“It’s been a challenge, just because we’ve been in such crunch time for so long, in his whole time here (since being acquired from Columbus). We really haven’t been afforded the luxury of exploring his game a little bit and giving him a runway to play his way onto the lineup.”

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joe mish
joe mish
10 days ago

Jarry bailed sick I believe because NY smothered him last time with 8 or 9 goals if I remember correctly, He probably thought let them beat Ned so I don’t look so bad. Boy did that backffire on Jarry.

Jen Smith
Jen Smith
10 days ago

Never ceases to amaze!!

howard
howard
10 days ago

Some of us knew Jarry is not our goalie of the future. He is maybe a average goalie at best. Way to many flaws in his game. His contract was a big mistake.