SLUMPS ARE MADE FOR BUSTING
In years of dominance, Crosby has shown that a mere cold streak can’t keep him down
The problem with writing a what-is-wrong-with-Sidney-Crosby story is the question itself.
According to Murphy’s Law, anything that can go wrong will go wrong. Well, Crosby’s Law states that any time you suggest something is wrong with the Pittsburgh Penguins captain, he goes on an offensive tear and proves you wrong.
Just ask Ray Shero. The New Jersey Devils general manager, who was previously the GM of the Penguins, remembers people questioning whether Crosby was on the decline after he started the 2015-16 season with two goals in his first 18 games. That was the year when he finished in the top three in scoring and then led Pittsburgh to its first of two Stanley Cups. Of course, it also resulted in the firing of head coach Mike Johnston.
“When he was going through that tough stretch and went through a coaching change, we were playing in Pittsburgh and I got asked this same question,” Shero said in a phone interview with Postmedia News. “I saw the previous two games he played and said, ‘It’s turning.’ Unfortunately, it was turning against us.”
Before Tuesday’s game against the Buffalo Sabres, Crosby had no goals, three assists and a minus-9 rating in his previous 11 games. He scored in the second period, then set up Conor Sheary’s goal in overtime. Cold snap over.
We were far from the point where head coach Mike Sullivan’s job was in jeopardy, but Crosby is still a far cry from the 15 goals he had in his first 17 games last season, when he won the Rocket Richard Trophy and finished second in scoring.
Concerning? Not at all, Shero said. Knowing Crosby, he’s bound to rack up 20 points in the next 10 games.
“People are really questioning that? I guess that last 24 months of dominance don’t really add up to much,” Shero said with a laugh. “I don’t know how many games he’s gone without a goal, but I don’t want to be that next team that play against him, I’ll put it that way.”
It’s not like Crosby hasn’t done it before.
The 30-year-old started the year with five goals and five assists in his first eight games before this slump. In other words, give him a few more games before dropping him from your fantasy league team.
The fact he only had five goals and 13 points in his first 19 games can be chalked up to puck luck more than anything. Crosby, who was in the top 15 in total shots, had a shooting percentage of 8.3 per cent — nearly half of what it was last season. During this 11-game slump, he fired 34 shots on net, including a seven-shot outburst against the Winnipeg Jets and five-shot flurries against the Edmonton Oilers and Nashville Predators.
Look at the top scorers in the league this season and none of them are doing it alone. Tampa Bay’s Nikita Kucherov (16 goals) has Steven Stamkos (23 assists), Washington’s Alex Ovechkin (13 goals) has Evgeny Kuznetsov (16 assists) and John Tavares (13 goals) of the New York Islanders has Josh Bailey (15 assists).
You need a star linemate to score goals in this league. In some cases, such as Philadelphia’s Sean Couturier, Jakub Voracek and Claude Giroux or St. Louis’s Jaden Schwartz, Vladimir Tarasenko and Brayden Schenn, you need three.
Crosby, who has mostly played with Sheary (four assists) and Jake Guentzel (five assists), is practically by himself. He’s never had top-line wingers because he’s never needed them. He turned Chris Kunitz into an Olympian, made Pascal Dupuis into a household name and introduced the hockey world to Guentzel in last year’s playoffs.
Now that he’s struggling, he might need help — or maybe, as Shero suggested, he just needs another game to heat up and remind everyone why he has been so dominant in his career.
“I don’t care what anybody says, he’s the best player in the league,” Shero said. “That torch will be passed at some point, no different than when it was when Mario and Wayne Gretzky took it from Bobby Orr and guys like that, but it’s not today.
“Connor McDavid scored three goals in his first game and everybody expected him to have 210 goals this year. It’s not that easy.”
Pittsburgh Penguins centre Sidney Crosby lifts the puck over Buffalo Sabres goaltender Robin Lehner for a goal in the second period of Tuesday’s game in Pittsburgh. The goal ended an 11-game stretch in which the 30-year-old could not find the back of...