In the absence of an offensively capable third line center, or trustworthy fourth line center, Pittsburgh Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan has double-shifted Sidney Crosby for much of the last two months. Penguins fourth-line center Carter Rowney was injured January 2, and Crosby’s workload became more significant.
Crosby is even killing penalties for the first time in years.
On the top line, Crosby’s left wing is occupied by rookie Dominik Simon. The right wing was Daniel Sprong’s position before it became Conor Sheary’s spot. But, Sheary is out week to week with a lower body injury so Bryan Rust will step into the role. And, that’s just the juggling on the top line.
Throughout the game, Crosby will also take occasional shifts with the third line between Jake Guentzel and Phil Kessel, which isn’t exactly a typical third line. Crosby even takes the ice with the fourth line, which included Tom Kuhnhackl and Rust.
With Rust on the top line, it might mean Crosby takes a few shifts between Kuhnhackl and Ryan Reaves. Or more shifts on the third line.
Tuesday, after the win over San Jose, Sullivan explained game situations dictate when Crosby takes more shifts with other lines.
“Sometimes I’ll throw Sid between Jake (Guentzel) and Phil (Kessel). Or I’ll throw (Malkin) there. Or, I’ll throw Sid between Kuhnhackl and Rust. And, all of a sudden those lines become a serious threat,” said Sullivan. “Situationally, it gives us some options on the bench to move our top people around to get them in good situations where they can play to their strengths.”
That’s the positive spin. The negative spin is: A lack of center depth forces the Penguins to juggle lines and ask more of Crosby. If those lines aren’t a threat without Crosby or Malkin, that’s a bigger issue.
It’s your call which spin you prefer–both are factually correct.
56 points (17g, 39a) in 52 games. Sidney Crosby has surged to top 10 in NHL scoring, within striking distance of the Nikita Kucherov. Crosby is only eight points behind.
Crosby had five straight multi-point games from January 5th to January 17th. He also has a 10 game scoring streak, which dates to the same January 5th, 4-0 shutout win over the New York Islanders.
During his 10 game streak, Crosby has 20 points (3g, 17a). Not coincidentally, the Penguins have won eight of those 10 games.
Crosby’s 5v5 production has also been significantly better. His line with Simon and Sheary has four goals in the past five games. Unfortunately, with Guentzel and Kessel, Crosby has been on the ice for three goals against but just one goal in favor (given the combined defensive prowess of the wingers, that may seem a moral victory).
Crosby’s Corsi rating while double shifting is breathtaking. According to Corsicahockey.com, Crosby’s worst Crosi grade with any of the lines is…54%. The astounding number means he is generating chances and shots with all of the Penguins lines.
Ready for the oddball stat? In nearly 49 minutes of hockey over five games, the Simon-Crosby-Daniel Sprong line had a Corsi of almost 69%.
Crosby is currently averaging 20:45 of ice time per game, which is his highest total since the Dan Bylsma era. In 2013-14, Crosby averaged 21:58. Last season, Crosby averaged under 20 minutes per game.
The San Jose blowout skewed Crosby’s recent ice time average as the Penguins coaches wisely reduced Crosby’s ice time after the game ceased to be competitive. However, in four of the last six games, he has played more than 21 minutes. In two of the previous six games, Crosby has logged over 22 minutes.
Those are hard minutes for a 30-year-old captain who routinely sees the other teams best defensemen and defenders.
Sullivan has gone to the whip with his horse. For now, it’s working. The Penguins are winning. Crosby is scoring. Everyone is happy. Now the questions are: How long will Sullivan have to use the emergency plan and how long can his thoroughbred horse keep it up?