Sidney Crosby: Grading the Kid's Return in NHL Playoff Series vs. Islanders

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Sidney Crosby: Grading the Kid's Return in NHL Playoff Series vs. Islanders

Sidney Crosby made a successful return to the Pittsburgh Penguins lineup on Friday for Game 2 of his team's first-round playoff series against the New York Islanders.

The 25-year-old superstar missed the last 11 games of the regular season and Game 1 of this series after suffering a broken jaw when a shot was deflected off his face on March 30.

Crosby wore a special helmet with a face guard (pictured below) in Game 2, but it didn't prevent him from making a strong impact offensively in this matchup. He scored two goals on his first three shots and created a lot of scoring chances with his elite passing skills.

Unfortunately for the Penguins, his impressive performance wasn't enough to prevent the Islanders from earning a 4-3 win to tie the series, 1-1, heading to New York for Game 3.

Let's take a deeper look at Crosby's return to game action and grade the different aspects of his performance.

 

Vision/Playmaking

It will take a few games for the Penguins star to get used to playing with a full visor, but it didn't look like the change impacted his eyesight on the ice in a major way.

Here's a good picture of the helmet Crosby wore in Game 2 (h/t Dana Heinze):

Crosby doesn't have the same vision with the visor that he has without it, but that didn't prevent him from creating quality scoring chances at even strength and on the power play.

Pittsburgh's top playmaker spent a lot of time below the goal line in the attacking zone, especially on the power play, and was able to find teammates in prime position to shoot with pinpoint passes.

Crosby's incredible peripheral vision is one reason why he racks up so many assists every season, and it didn't look like the new helmet limited him too much in that respect.

Overall, Crosby was able to locate loose pucks, find open teammates in all three zones and make accurate passes. As he gains more experience playing with this helmet, his vision and playmaking will improve.

Grade: B+

 

Offensive Impact/Special Teams

It only took Crosby about two minutes of ice time to score his first two goals of the 2013 NHL playoffs. His first goal (video below) was scored on the power play just 3:19 into the game, giving the Penguins an early 2-0 lead.

As Evgeni Malkin unleashed a blast from the point, Crosby made his way from the half boards to the front of the net, where he received a slick feed from Jarome Iginla and shot the puck into a wide-open net.

This goal was a fine example of Crosby's high hockey IQ because he recognized that no one was defending that area and knew that if a loose puck came his way, he would have a gaping net to shoot at.

Crosby's second goal (video below) showed off his unbelievable shot accuracy. After winning an important offensive zone faceoff, he skated below the goal line away from Islanders defenseman Travis Hamonic, then picked up a loose puck to the left of goaltender Evgeni Nabokov and scored from a very difficult angle. As he often does, Crosby made it look easy.

Crosby finished the game with eight shots on goal, which was the second-highest total on the team behind Malkin's 10. Overall, his shot accuracy was excellent, evidenced by the fact that he missed the net on just one of his nine shot attempts.

He wasn't able to capitalize on a couple of quality chances when the Penguins were on the power play with less than a minute remaining in the second period, including a shot that hit the post, but he did a great job of testing Nabokov throughout the game.

Success against the Islanders isn't anything new to Crosby, who came into Friday's game with 75 career points in 41 career games versus the Long Island club.

Expect the Penguins captain to keep producing offensively in this series against an Islanders blue line that doesn't have a shut-down defenseman to match up with Pittsburgh's top line.

Grade: A

 

Defense/Aggressiveness

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sport

Crosby showed no signs of being hesitant to absorb and initiate contact. He battled for pucks in the corners, shrugged off hits along the end boards and fought through players trying to hook him, while also finishing some of his checks.

The Penguins started the third period on the power play, and one of their best chances in that sequence resulted from Crosby going hard to the net and diving onto the ice in order to fire a shot on Nabokov. This was one of many examples of No. 87's unwillingness to shy away from contact.

From a defensive standpoint, Crosby finished the game with zero takeaways and no blocked shots. He did back-check consistently, but overall, he didn't make a huge impact defensively.

The Islanders outshot the Penguins, 42-33, and if Pittsburgh's forwards had done a little better of a job getting into passing lanes and breaking up passes with an aggressive forecheck, New York would not have made Marc-Andre Fleury work so hard in net.

Although Crosby's primary focus isn't defense, he certainly didn't play poorly in this area of the game on Friday, but there is room for improvement heading into Game 3.

Grade: B

 

Energy/Stamina

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sport

Even though Crosby had not played in a real NHL game at full speed in over four weeks prior to Friday, he was still able to log a lot of minutes in Game 2.

He led all Penguins forwards in shifts (26) and ice time (23:21), and only defensemen Kris Letang and Paul Martin played more minutes.

The impressive part about Crosby's stamina and energy was the fact that he still skated with the great speed and quickness we expect from him when fully healthy.

Crosby's ability to play a lot of minutes against a physical Islanders team in his first game back from a serious jaw injury was a good first step for him in getting back to normal shape.

Grade: A-

 

Faceoffs

The Penguins dominated the Islanders in the faceoff circle in Game 2, and Crosby played a major part in this success.

What grade would you give Crosby's Game 2 performance?

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He won all seven of his faceoffs in the first period, several of which came against Islanders superstar center John Tavares.

However, Crosby did not finish the game well in the faceoff dot. He won just seven of the 19 draws he took in the second and third periods, which allowed the Islanders to gain possession of the puck and use their speed and skill to create scoring chances.

The Penguins did win the faceoff battle, 36-23, but Crosby needs to be better in this phase of the game during the final two periods for Pittsburgh to win Game 3.

Grade: C+

 

Final Thoughts

Vincent Pugliese/Getty Images

Crosby deserves a lot of praise for Friday night's performance because he played at the level we expect from the world's best player, even though he hadn't participated in a real game since the end of March.

He was leading the NHL in points (15 goals, 41 assists) when he got injured and still finished tied for third in the scoring race (four points behind Art Ross Trophy winner Martin St. Louis). This was the Crosby that we saw on Friday, the one that dominates offensively with exceptional playmaking skills and capitalizes on goal-scoring opportunities.

Another impressive part of Crosby's return was the smooth transition he made into the lineup. He quickly reestablished the extraordinary chemistry he had with linemates Pascal Dupuis and Chris Kunitz during the regular season.

All of the Penguins forwards adjusted well to the line changes that resulted from Crosby's return to the ice, which was an encouraging sign for head coach Dan Bylsma.

Despite the fact that the Penguins lost in his return, Crosby's presence in the lineup will make Pittsburgh a more formidable team and give them a better chance to reach the second round of the playoffs for the first time since the 2009-10 season.

From an individual standpoint, Crosby had a fantastic comeback performance. He found the back of the net twice, created scoring chances as a playmaker and logged a ton of minutes. There didn't seem to be any limitations in his game, which is great news for the Penguins and their fans.

 

Nicholas Goss is an NHL lead writer at Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter. He was a credentialed reporter at the 2011 Stanley Cup Final and 2012 NHL playoffs in Boston

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