By Andrew Chiappazzi
October 15, 2013
Cam Ward makes a diving save against Sidney Crosby in Carolina’s 5-2 loss to the Penguins last Tuesday. (Vincent Pugliese/ Getty Images)
PITTSBURGH – Sidney Crosby has never needed much space to make plays. But with an extra 4 inches to work with behind the net, the world is quickly becoming his playground once again.
The NHL reduced the depth of its nets 4 inches in the hopes that it will increase goal scoring across the league. Several plays from the Penguins 3-2 win over Edmonton are indications that Crosby and the Pens are taking advantage.
“It’s tough to make a definitive answer on it statistically if there’s been more plays, but absolutely, no question, there’s more opportunity there,” Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said. “We’ve seen it defensively with teams wrapping the puck and tossing pucks out more, and we’ve used it.”
The first successful play came early in the first period, when Chris Kunitz chipped the puck down behind the net for Crosby. With a quick flick of his wrists, Crosby sent the puck back out from behind the net to Pascal Dupuis, who fired a shot from the face-off circle past Jason Labarbara for a 1-0 Pittsburgh lead. Take away those extra 4 inches, and Crosby may not have had room to make such a pass.
“It was a good play from behind the net from Sid again,” Dupuis said. “He seems to be finding us. I just tried to put the puck on net there.”
Crosby’s presence behind the net almost struck again on the Penguins’ second goal. After he fed Dupuis for a shot from the point, Crosby circled around the net and nearly got his stick on the puck to push it past Labarbara. Teammate Chris Kunitz, who was planted in front of the net, got to it a split second before Crosby did to get the goal. Crosby’s path behind the net was cut so sharply because of the shallower nets that he was in position to score the goal if Kunitz didn’t connect.
“There are more little plays around the net and there’s more room back there,” Dupuis said. “You can add a body or two and still be able to make plays and keep your speed instead of getting pinned on the board or net there.”
Crosby is off to the fastest start of his career with a league-leading 12 points through six games. It might just be coincidence. He was on a blistering pace last year prior to breaking his jaw, and he was on a lengthy point streak prior to his concussion in the 2010-2011 season. It’s also possible that the player known for working on a weakness every off-season is finding new ways to make plays for the Penguins.
“I think guys like Crosby with that hockey I.Q., we’ve seen him use that back of the net and make that play a handful of times already in six games,” Bylsma said.