Monday, January 12, 2015

Despite struggles, Crosby's stats will eventually catch up


Yahoo.com’s Nick Cotsonika wrote about Sidney Crosby’s goal-scoring slump. Crosby has just five goals in his last 30 games.
Cotsonika narrowed the possible causes to:
* Injured wrist.
* Not going to the net.
* Struggling with organizational/systematic/roster changes.
* Victim of Penguins’ struggling power play.
* Bad luck.
I’m minimizing the third and fourth options.
Every team undergoes off-season changes. Anyway, the adjustments made by new coach Mike Johnston oblige Crosby’s game. The Penguins attack with much more speed. That certainly favors Crosby.
As Cotsonika notes, the power-play discussion is chicken/egg: Is an infirm power play shackling Crosby, or is an out-of-form Crosby poisoning the power play?
Crosby has rarely been prolific on the power play: His career high for power-play goals, 16, was set in his rookie year, 2005-06. When Crosby netted his career-best 51 goals in ’09-10, just 13 came with the man advantage. Crosby has cracked the NHL’s top 10 in PPGs just twice. His highest finish was sixth, in ’09-10.
Crosby’s game-winning power-play goal at Montreal Saturday might ignite him, but probably not the power play. That goal came 4-on-3 in overtime. Different unit, different technique. Crosby should be encouraged by the goal, and by getting a fistful of good chances.
Crosby says his wrist is OK. If it wasn’t, he’d lie. He appears to be shooting with less confidence. That could be physical. It could be mental. Or it could be wrong.
Compared to last campaign, Crosby is taking an average of three less faceoffs per game this season and is winning three percent less. That could point to a wrist injury. Or it could be a total reach derived from a relatively small sample.
Crosby definitely seems to go to the net less. But he’s often skated on a line with Patric Hornqvist and/or Chris Kunitz, both of whom drive to the blue paint. There’s always room for one more, but somebody’s got to make plays.
Crosby didn’t start going to the net less after his well-documented concussion problems. The catalyst may have been Crosby getting hit in the face by Brooks Orpik’s shot on March 30, 2013. Crosby suffered a broken jaw and 10 damaged teeth. It was a very traumatic injury.
Crosby missed the Penguins’ last 12 regular-season games that season, and their first playoff contest. He wore a shield until the Eastern Conference final vs. Boston.
The injury cost Crosby the scoring title and almost certainly the MVP. Despite tallying 15 points in 14 postseason games, he never looked truly sharp in the playoffs and had zero points against the Bruins as the Penguins got swept in four games.
While the front of the net may be the scene of the accident, Crosby’s jaw and face are vulnerable everywhere on the ice. His play certainly isn’t timid. Quite the opposite.
That brings us to bad luck.
The most confounding thing about Crosby’s slump is that he’s not playing poorly. Save the occasional mistake at the opposition blue line, he passes the eye test most nights. Crosby plays hard, and does so from goal line to goal line. He has 44 points in 38 games, he’s plus-10, and is tied for eighth in NHL scoring.
For just about every other player in the league, those numbers are cause for celebration. But Crosby has set the bar so high.
From 1982-1996, Baseball Hall-of-Famer Wade Boggs hit over .300 every season but one: In 1992, Boggs’ batting average was .259.
Crosby, metaphorically speaking, is hitting better than .259. But even the best players can suffer a stretch that is inexplicably disappointing.
That’s what Crosby is: Hockey’s best player. Eventually, his stats will catch up to that fact.
Mark Madden hosts a radio show 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WXDX-FM (105.9).

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