Sidney Crosby Is Still Dominant Despite Dismal Playoff Scoring Numbers

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Sidney Crosby Is Still Dominant Despite Dismal Playoff Scoring Numbers
USa Today

PITTSBURGH — It was a spirited morning skate for the Pittsburgh Penguins on Sunday at Consol Energy Center, and no one was more spirited during the session than Sidney Crosby.

Before coach Dan Bylsma began putting his players through drills, Crosby scooped a puck onto the blade of his stick and flung it over the protective netting and into an unpopulated section 106. He also showed no signs of an alleged nagging injury as he lunged over the boards in front of his bench, using his stomach and hips to balance on top of it, and extended his stick in an effort to corral another stick in the distance. 

When Crosby snapped a shot past Marc-Andre Fleury and two other players followed suit, he dished some playful ribbing at his goaltender. Crosby whooshed up and down the ice throughout the 35-minute practice like someone without a care in the world whose body wasn't forcing him to hold anything back.

"I feel good," Crosby said after the morning skate when asked about his health. He responded the same way to a follow-up question about the subject.

"I feel good."

Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press

About eight hours later, Crosby backed up his talk by playing one of his best games of the 2014 postseason as the Penguins evened their conference semifinal series against the New York Rangers with a 3-0 victory at Consol Energy Center. 

Crosby's stat line Sunday night was the same as the waitress that spent her afternoon serving pizza and salads coated in french fries at a restaurant just around the corner—zero goals, zero assists, zero points and an even rating. Based on the scoresheet, Crosby's so-called "slump" continued, as he failed to register a point in 20:44 of ice time. 

The unquestioned best player in the NHL has now failed to score in 13 consecutive playoff games, the longest drought of his career, postseason or otherwise.

Yet he couldn't have been more effective in Game 2. Critics with a poor understanding of judging a hockey player will immediately point their fingers at his zero goals and six assists in eight games this postseason and scream about how he's either injured or letting the team down or a combination of the two.

Outside of an abysmal performance in Game 1 of this series, Crosby has been carrying the play on every night and he was a commanding presence Sunday against the Rangers.

"He's had a few good ones, but I thought that was his best 60 minutes," Penguins center Brandon Sutter said. "Everyone's talking about how he's not scoring, but when he plays the way he does, he doesn't need to score every single night. We've got guys that can put the puck in the net. He was a force out there. It's only a matter of time before he breaks out."

Crosby is held to a different standard—and he should beas he is head and shoulders above any of his contemporaries and on par with some of the all-time greats. His 1.398 points per game for his career are the most among active players and fourth all-time behind Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux and Mike Bossy.

In the postseason, Crosby's 1.247 points per game are the fifth-best in NHL history behind Gretzky, Lemieux, Barry Pederson and Mark Messier. 

That's why despite him having six assists in eight games in this year's playoffs, the questions are lingering around Crosby.

To his credit, he understands why his game is under only the strongest of microscopes and sees it as a challenge that can help him focus. 

"You're focused on winning this time of year," Crosby said. "I think you look at it the same way, and ultimately it's about winning in the playoffs. You try to do those things to help your team win. You know if you start to focus on scoring and cheating out there, you're going to get scored on against a lot too.

Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press

"Ultimately, you want to score but you've got to look at other things too and not get focused on that."

"In our discussions in talking about his game, it's the expectation of the playoffs being hard is where it's at," Bylsma said. "It's hard to generate to scoring chances. It's hard expecting the other team to play hard against him and teams to play good defense not just against Sidney Crosby, but it is hard in playoff hockey and that's something we know and have acknowledged and staying focused and playing your game, at that level, is where his focus is at, knowing it is hard. 

"Frankly, we have to fight through it with how we play and how he plays, knowing that is going to be the case."

Game 1 of this series added fuel to the fire that something was wrong with Crosby. He was on the ice for all three goals against in the 3-2 loss and was captured on video coasting back defensively on the first goal of the game by Benoit Pouliot. Crosby had zero points and his first negative Corsi-relative rating (minus-9.1 percent) of the postseason.

As awful as he was in Game 1, he was as brilliant in Game 2.

Crosby was on the ice for 20 shot attempts; the Rangers generated only seven attempts while Crosby was on the ice. Crosby himself fired 10 shots toward the net (six on net, three blocked, one missed) and was only kept off the scoresheet thanks to about three spectacular saves by Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist.

Game 1 was the anomaly this postseason for Crosby; Game 2 was more indicative of Crosby's mix of great play and poor luck in the playoffs.

For all the criticism Crosby has received for not scoring a goal in the playoffs, his numbers reveal that he has been a dominant force and driver of possession who has just happened to not score a goal in six games, which is a common occurrence for even the best of NHL players but not the best player in the NHL. 

His Corsi percentage through eight games is 60.9, the sixth-best mark in the postseason among players still fighting for the Stanley Cup. His PDO, however, is 94.8, which ranks 208th among everyone in the playoffs. 

If you look up the definition of "bad luck" in the dictionary, it's a picture of Sidney Crosby looking at his Corsi and PDO numbers for this postseason.

It's not out of the question that Crosby is playing with an undisclosed ailment, although he looked like the best player in the world with no hindrances as he undressed Rangers defenseman Ryan McDonagh for a great scoring chance in the first period. 

"I thought, almost to a man, our game was at another level tonight," Bylsma said. "Sid was every bit a leader in that regard for our team. I think we're looking for things on the offensive side of things, on the stat sheet. He didn't show up with an assist or a goal tonight, but he was all around it on the both ends of the rink for us."

The goals haven't been there at all this postseason for Crosby and the points aren't coming at the same frequency as in the past. But everything a person could use to an evaluate a player—the eye test, the math, the listening to the player himself and his teammates—says Crosby is playing well, and it's only a matter of time before his shots begin finding the back of the net.

That's very bad news for the Rangers with Game 3 set for Monday night in New York.

 

Dave Lozo covers the NHL for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter: @DaveLozo.

All statistics via NHL.com, Extra Skater or Hockey-Reference.

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