CROS FOR WORRY?
Despite mini-slump, Ray Shero says there’s no reason to be concerned about Sid the Kid
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 anytime 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, 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 third in scoring and then led Pittsburgh to its first of two straight Stanley Cups — of course, it also resulted in Mike Johnston getting fired as head coach.
“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 Tuesday in a phone interview with Postmedia. “I saw the previous two games he played and said, ‘It’s turning.’ Unfortunately, it was turning against us.”
Heading into Tuesday night’s game against the Buffalo Sabres, Crosby had no goals, three assists and a minus-9 rating in his past 11 games. During that span, the Penguins went 4-5-2.
We’re far from being at a point where head coach Mike Sullivan’s job is in jeopardy. But Crosby is also a far cry from the 15 goals he scored 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 laughed. “I don’t know how many games he’s gone without a goal. But I don’t want to be that next team that plays against him, I’ll put it that way.”
Indeed, it’s not like Crosby hasn’t done it before.
Despite being “hungover” from back-to-back Cup wins, the 30-year-old started the 2017-18 season with five goals and five assists in eight games before going on this mini-slump. In other words, wait a couple of days before dropping him from your fantasy league team.
The fact that he only has five goals and 13 points in his first 19 games can be chalked up to puck luck more than anything. Crosby, who is among the NHL’s top 15 shot generators, has a shooting percentage of 8.3% — nearly half of what it was last season. During this 10-game slump, he has fired 34 shots on net, including a sevenshot outburst against the Jets and five-shot flurries against the Oilers and Predators.
The chances are coming. The puck just isn’t going in. And, really, his linemates are to blame as much as much as the hockey gods.
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 gaols) has Evgeny Kuznetsov (16 assists) and John Tavares of the New York Islanders (13 goals) has Josh Bailey (15 assists).
You need to play with an all-star calibre linemate to score goals in this league. In some cases, such as Philadelphia’s Sean Couturier, Jakub Voracek and Claude Giroux or St. Louis’ Jaden Schwartz, Vladimir Tarasenko and Brayden Schenn, you need three.
Crosby, who has mostly played with Jake Guentzel (five assists) and Conor Sheary (two assists), is practically by himself. He’s never had top-line wingers because he has never needed them. He turned Chris Kunitz into an Olympian, converted Pascal Dupuis into a household name and introduced the hockey world to Guentzel during last year’s playoffs.
Now that he’s struggling, though, 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 throughout 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 Lemieux 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.”
Heading into last night’s game against Buffalo, Sidney Crosby had no goals, three assists and a minus-9 rating in his past 11 games.