CROS FOR WORRY?

De­spite mini-slump, Ray Shero says there’s no rea­son to be con­cerned about Sid the Kid

Winnipeg Sun - - SPORTS - MICHAEL TRAIKOS

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.”

GETTY IMAGES

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.

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