Around the Rink: What's Wrong with Sidney Crosby in 2015-16?

Adrian Dater@@adaterNHL National ColumnistNovember 19, 2015

Nov 17, 2015; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Penguins center Sidney Crosby (87) on the ice against the Minnesota Wild during the second period at the CONSOL Energy Center. The Penguins won 4-3. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

You look at the player statistics of the Pittsburgh Penguins, and you think the typographers must have made a mistake with Sidney Crosby's.

Maybe they mistakenly aligned the numbers of Matt Cullen or Beau Bennett with Crosby's name because, well, these can't be right: Eighteen games played, two goals, seven assists, minus-eight. Certainly, these can't be the numbers for the 28-year-old best hockey player of his generation.

But entering Thursday's game against the Colorado Avalanche, those are indeed the real numbers.

What started out as dismissive media stories to the effect of "Hey, everybody can have a slow first week or twoSid will get 'er rollin' quickhave lately become "Hey, what's goin' on with Sid???"

The Penguins' 11-7-0 record has prevented what otherwise surely would be outright panic in Steeltown over No. 87's stark drop in his usual production.

Crosby's career points-per-game average of 1.39 ranks fifth among all-time NHL leaders. He remains the de facto face of the game, the one name that always gets ratings, sells papers, generates clicks.

PITTSBURGH, PA - OCTOBER 17: Sidney Crosby #87 of the Pittsburgh Penguins looks on against the Toronto Mapleleafs during the game at Consol Energy Center on October 17, 2015 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Matt Kincaid/Getty Images)
Matt Kincaid/Getty Images

So why are Crosby's numbers closer to those of a third-line grinder than a first-ballot Hall of Famer? There are lots of theories, but longtime Pittsburgh columnist Dejan Kovacevicwho runs the popular site DKPittsburghSports.comhas seen most every game Crosby has ever played and believes it's more mental than physical right now.

"My thought is that Crosby, while he's been inexplicably sloppy at timeseven with his passing, which is extraordinarily raregot off to a slow start because of a terribly disorganized power play, then let the lack of production get to him," Kovacevic told Bleacher Report. "He started squeezing his stick. He started shaking his head at the end of nearly every shift. And when he goes to that place, he either sinks deeper or gets mad and does something about it.

"Not coincidentally, his only two Sid-like games in the past month (vs. Florida and Minnesota) came after he was seriously peeved for different reasons. Jaromir Jagr speared him in the privates, and Minnesota came after an emotional team meeting in which the stars were challenged to do better."

Crosby's stats are part of another shockingly low number, that of the Penguins' power-play percentage. Entering Thursday, it ranked 27th in the league at 14.3 percent. How can a team with Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Phil Kessel and Kris Letang on the first unit have such a bad number with the man advantage?

Kovacevic believes coach Mike Johnston's conservative approach might have something to do with that and Crosby's poor start overall.

PITTSBURGH, PA - NOVEMBER 11:  Mike Johnston of the Pittsburgh Penguins talks to the team during a timeout during the game against the Montreal Canadiens at Consol Energy Center on November 11, 2015 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Justin K. Aller/
Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

"All Crosby needs is a head coach more in tune with creating offenseremember, the whole team is down in scoringand a fresh edge to his game. Watch him on a daily basis, and the speed, the skill set is same as it ever was," he said.

"The fanbase doesn't strike me as worried as much wondering what's wrong. There are a lot of folks who point to the sharp statistical decline after the Winter Classic concussion, even a few who criticize him for not going to the tough areas. But the bulk of sentiment is still pointed at circumstances, whether [it's] coaching or linemates or the NHL in general not taking care of its stars or promoting offense. Honestly, it's all over the place."

You wonder if what happened to former Pens coach Michel Therrien in 2009 might not happen to Johnston as well. Therrien's brusque, somewhat conservative style seemed to frustrate Crosby then, which led to his being replaced during the season by Dan Bylsma.

The Penguins went on to win the Stanley Cup that year under a rejuvenated Crosby.

One thing we know for sure: The Penguins aren't going to keep Johnston over Crosby if management wants to really shake things up.

3-on-3 Grumbling

You'd think the people doing the least amount of grumbling about the NHL's three-on-three overtime formatwhich will now be transferred to the All-Star Game in Nashville early next yearwould be the star players.

After all, they are the ones who get to be out there for most of the OT sessions and derive tangible statistical benefits, which can only help their bargaining power come salary negotiation time. 

Yet more and more star players are complaining about the format, which they say tires them out too much and could predispose them to greater injury risk.

NEWARK, NJ - OCTOBER 02: The New Jersey Devils and the Philadelphia Flyers play 3 on 3 in overtime at the Prudential Center on October 2, 2015 in Newark, New Jersey. The Devils defeated the Flyers 3-2 in the shootout. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

"It feels more like a bag skate for players like me,” Ottawa's Erik Karlsson told reporters recently. “It’s not really hockey. It’s whoever holds on to the puck longest and whoever cheats the most. Small stuff like that. Kinda boring."

Winnipeg defenseman Dustin Byfuglien also is not a fan.

"It ain’t hockey. It’s ‘Just let the kids play.’ It’s stupid. Just keep it four-on-four, five-on-five. Let’s just play hockey," Byfuglien said, per the Winnipeg Free Press' Tim Campbell.

Many of the players whose stats might be padded from more overtime goals probably don't care about the financial incentives. Most of the game's top young players are already locked up long-term. They've already got their money.

Regardless, the fans seem to like it and fewer games are going to shootouts. So, the top players are going to have to learn to deal with it.

Quick Takes

  • When TSN's Rick Westhead broke the story of increased cocaine use in the NHL last month, some wondered about the league's problem with another drug, Ambien, that made headlines in 2013. The powerful sleep drug was said to be in wide use among players and may have contributed to the addiction problems that ultimately took the life of Derek Boogaard. According to the New York Times' John Branch, Boogaard had 25 prescriptions for the drug from 10 different doctors.
  • A league source told Bleacher Report, however, that the occurrence of positive tests for Ambien has decreased since 2013 and is not considered as serious a concern as it once was—although the league continues to monitor its use carefully.
  • Don't look now, but Columbus is only seven points out of a playoff spot. The Blue Jackets have won seven games since John Tortorella took over and are 6-4-0 in their last 10. One of the biggest reasons for Columbus' resurgence has been the play of winger Brandon Saad, who has four goals in his last three games and nine overall.
  • There is starting to be genuine worry in Tampa Bay about the play of the Lightning. The team just has not played with the energy and passion it showed so often on the way to the Stanley Cup Final last season. Valtteri Filppula has been dreadful with one goal in 20 games, and Jonathan Drouin remains stuck at one goal. Now, Ondrej Palat will be out a while with a lower-body injury.
  • An NHL source said Filppula's name has been floated in trade talks by general manager Steve Yzerman, but his age (31) and contract (this year plus two more at a $5 million cap hit) might make him tough to move.

Adrian Dater covers the NHL for Bleacher Report. Follow him @Adater.


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