X's and O's: Sidney Crosby Learns Fast, but So Does Bruce Boudreau

Ken YongContributor IMay 12, 2009

PITTSBURGH - MAY 06:  Sidney Crosby #87 of the Pittsburgh Penguins answers reporters questions after Game Three of the Eastern Conference Semifinal Round of the 2009 Stanley Cup Playoffs against the Washington Capitals at Mellon Arena on May 6, 2009 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)

The Sidney Crosby-Alex Ovechkin battle has taken center stage in this years playoffs, and with the series going to a pivotal seventh game, it's been equal to its billing.

But there's been another compelling match up that hasn't received quite as much hype: David Steckel vs. Sidney Crosby on the draw.

Let's take a closer look at how this has played out through the series, and how it might affect Game Seven.

Games One and Two: Steckel's Stick Stifles

Early in the series, Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau relied on Steckel's faceoff prowess to combat the Crosby lines possession game. Crosby's numbers:

Game One: 3-for-11—27%

Game Two: 2-for-11—18%

At this point, Crosby was getting dominated regularly by Steckel, and Boudreau could be confident that the Crosby line would be denied at least one quality possession per shift. This is an absolutely huge shift in the possession game.

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Game Three: Crosby and Bylsma Work It Out

Here's where it gets interesting. This is the heart of what makes Crosby such an amazing player: His work ethic.

From Game Two on, Crosby and Bylsma worked together to improve Crosby's faceoff chances against Steckel. During practice, Bylsma mimicked Steckel's faceoff style against Crosby.

The result?

Game Three: 3-for-12—25%

A slight improvement, but consider this: The overtime winner scored by Letang was assisted by Sidney Crosby, a direct result of Crosby winning an offensive zone faceoff against none other than David Steckel.

Games Four, Five and Six: Boudreau Gets Wise

In the next three games Steckel takes half as many faceoffs against Crosby. And Crosby does considerably better against Steckel in the draws they do take against each other:

Game Four: 3-for-6—50%
Game Five: 3-for-4—75%
Game Six: 2-for-6—33%

A very marked improvement. Not only was Crosby able to improve his faceoff ability only a game removed from implementing the adjustment, but he was able to force Boudreau in to changing his strategy. This is always a good thing, and the difference this made to the series was clear.

Credit Boudreau though with recognizing immediately that an adjustment needed to be made. By Game Six it looks like Steckel was starting to make his own face off changes.

What to expect in Game Seven

With a big Game Six win, and the series shifting to Washington, Boudreau has a decision to make. Does he go back to the Steckel vs. Crosby matchup, hoping Steckel has adapted to Crosby's new approach?

Challenging Crosby head to head isn't exactly a comforting proposition for any opposition coach, but it might be the difference maker they need.

Sidney Crosby should be preparing to see a lot of David Steckel, and if the rest of the series is any indication, he'll be more than ready for the challenge.

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