By Josh Yohe
February 17, 2014
Feb 14, 2014; Sochi, RUSSIA; Canada forward Sidney Crosby (87) skates with the puck against Austria in a men’s preliminary round ice hockey game during the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games at Bolshoy Ice Dome. Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports
Three games. No goals. Two assists.
What’s wrong with Sidney Crosby, you ask?
I’ll be the first to admit that Crosby hasn’t been his dominant self in these Olympics, that the lightning bolt speed, precision passes and otherworldly work along the boards haven’t been especially evident in Sochi.
But really, we’re all missing the point here.
Partially because of this era, and also because of the way Crosby is wired, we can’t measure him on statistics. Legends of hockey’s past are measured on statistics, but they played in a different time.
Follow me here.
Historically speaking, we’ll only be able to compare Crosby to Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux. He’s fourth behind those two (and Mike Bossy) in NHL all-time points per game.
Crosby is also arguably the most hyped and publicized player of all time.
He’s the player of his era, much like Gretzky and Lemieux were. All three are much different, but how we must judge Crosby is radically different.
When you think of Gretzky and Lemieux and their respective greatest international moments, you think of the 1987 Canada Cup, right?
You think of Gretzky leading the tournament in points, and of Lemieux scoring and astounding 11 goals, including four in the final two games against Russia. Great stuff, with Gretzky nearing the end of his prime and Lemieux entering his.
Now, let’s take a look at the final score of the three games involving Russia and Canada at the 1987 Canada Cup.
6-5, 6-5, 6-5.
That’s right, 33 goals in three games.
Fast-forward 27 years. Can you imagine any game the remainder of these Olympics being played at a 6-5 clip? Did you watch Canada play Finland today? Both teams were trying to win 2-1. Only one managed to pull it off.
Perhaps a better example is when the United States played Russia on Saturday. The U.S. team is blessed with speed and does nothing but attack. Russia offers Alex Ovechkin, Evgeni Malkin, Ilya Kovalchuk and Pavel Datsyuk.
And we got four goals out of that game until the shootout.
But, you see, we still remember Wayne and Mario putting up points whether their team was winning or not. They were savants that way, really. Honestly, Lemieux probably would have put up seven points against Norway if he felt like it. Maybe more. That’s how he was. He craved producing points, and Gretzky did also.
This brings us back to Crosby, who is entirely different. Those early round blowouts feel like all-star games. Mario and Wayne put on shows in all-star games. They loved it. Crosby stinks in all-star games. It’s not what makes him tick. It’s not real. Now, the games start to matter.
Has he been great? No, certainly not. But what exactly do you expect him to do? What has Jonathan Toews done in this tournament? How about Patrick Kane? What have Ovechkin and Malkin done since that first period of their first game?
Zero points, that’s what.
The game is different now. Defense rules. Allowing infractions to go uncalled rules. Goaltenders have never been better. Scouting reports have never been better.
Hockey, in essence, has minimized star power. Take the NHL’s current season, if you will. One man (Ovechkin) is on pace to surpass 50 goals. One man (Crosby) is on pace to surpass 100 points.
Think about that.
Listen, I could recommend some strategies that will ignite Crosby. And, in fact, I will.
He played 10 minutes through the first two periods. What is Mike Babcock thinking? Either he’s trying to keep everyone happy, or he’s displaying the height of arrogance, letting the world know that Canada is so deep that it can roll four lines with no drawback. Either way, it’s insane. Great players need lots of ice time. Ryan Getzlaf is terrific. He isn’t Crosby.
Crosby is at his very best when he receives the puck with speed in the neutral zone. It’s during these times that he draws penalties, creates opportunities for his wingers, and scorers many of his goals. The defense that Finland played today – calling it passive wouldn’t be a stretch – never allowed Crosby time to maneuver with speed. Also, the Canadian defenseman, none of whom have played considerable time with Crosby, don’t know when to give him the puck. I counted three times today when Crosby skated with passion through the neutral zone, clearly wanting the puck, and did not receive it. That will come with time, though there is only so much time in such a tournament.
Leave him with Kunitz. Seriously. He’s the creature of habit in a world of people who are creatures of habits. Canada put Jamie Benn on Crosby’s left wing. The only time I noticed Benn all game was when he crosschecked a Finnish defenseman from behind late in the third period. Nothing was called on this play, which is typical. The officiating was very NHL-like today, as in, stars were being restricted throughout with no penalties being called. That doesn’t help Crosby either.
Aside from these thoughts, my ultimate suggestion for the restless Canadian faction of people expecting more from Crosby is to be patient.
Maybe he won’t lead the tournament in scoring. Maybe he isn’t producing points the way legends before him did.
But remember this about Sidney Crosby: He isn’t a man of statistics. He’s a man of moments.
His highest career goal total isn’t etched in our minds. But that shootout goal in Buffalo is.
His highest career point total isn’t something that every Canadian kid remembers. But they sure remember the Golden Goal.
I couldn’t tell you, off the top of my head, how many goals he has scored in personal matchups with Ovechkin. But we all remember that breakaway in Game 7 in Washington, when Crosby stripped Ovechkin, buried a shot and announced that the hockey world was his.
How many power play points has he produced in his career? I don’t know. But I still remember everything about that night when he returned from a concussion against the Islanders. You do, too.
Crosby is a man of moments. We can’t measure him any other way.
Will he have his moment in this tournament? It’s tough to say. Tournaments like these aren’t really made for stars to shine. His own country, more than any other, likes it that way. It’s all about the team, eh?
But the coach of the team has to ride Crosby, and I expect him to sooner rather than later.
I’ll never forget an answer from Mike Babcock to a question I asked about Crosby one month following the 2010 Olympics.
“The thing about Sid,” Babcock said, “is that he seems to have a magic about him.”
That’s just it. And you never know when magic will appear.
The Russians feel it’s their birth right to win this tournament, and make no mistake, the Americans have clearly been the best team in Sochi.
Meanwhile, the Canadians have looked lifeless and a tad slow. They don’t look like champions right now, and their captain doesn’t, either.
But before we dismiss mighty Canada, and before we dismiss its captain, we must realize that moments remain in this tournament, and he hasn’t had his yet.
Crosby, you see, does not dream of points or pretty goals. He dreams of the moment. We better not sleep on that.