Friday, January 30, 2015

Pens need Crosby out of his comfort zones

Sidney Crosby is the best player in hockey. But if Crosby’s statistics are going to catch up to that notion -- and if the Penguins are going to win -- some changes need made.
Crosby needs to play on a line with David Perron and Patric Hornqvist. No debate. No Chris Kunitz, either.

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Kunitz has 14 goals, but that belies his level of play. Kunitz has lost a step. He’s not rotten, but he’s not the best choice to play left wing on Crosby’s line. Perron is. Perron can play left or right, but is better at left. Hornqvist drives to the net with frequency and efficiency. That clears space for Crosby and Perron to skate.
This shouldn’t be a debate. If it is, Crosby shouldn’t be part of it.
It’s about producing, not comfort level. Kunitz has hit his sell-by date. Perron-Crosby-Hornqvist is best for the Penguins, and for Crosby.
Crosby also needs to play down low on the power play. Again, no debate.
Crosby prefers the right circle. But he doesn’t have the patience to play there. Crosby plays the game in a hurry. He’s not a reset point. His shot isn’t a cannon.
Crosby is brilliant in front of the net. He gets more greasy goals than any superstar ever. He works down low better than any superstar ever. Put Crosby down low. Put him on the left side so he can’t keep rotating into the right circle.
Crosby is at his best near the goal line. He’s tireless, gritty and exhausts the opposition. He needs to play to his strengths, whether 5-on-5 or on the power play.
I don’t believe Crosby is hurt or that past injuries make him shy away from contact. He’s just not being put in optimum position to succeed.
The necessary adjustments are obvious to most, but maybe not Crosby. Coach Mike Johnston has to make them and make Crosby buy in.
Evidence is plentiful. Crosby has zero points in eight of his last 16 games. His points per game average is 1.15, lowest in his career. He’s six points off the scoring lead. Crosby can’t be happy with his play or production.
So fix it.
Without Crosby, the power play was 2 for 3 against Winnipeg Tuesday, driving to the net continuously. Perron and Brandon Sutter both bundled in pucks from close range. With Crosby, the power play was 0 for 4 at Washington, probing from the perimeter with no success. The difference was clear.
So fix it.
The Penguins are hardly in a dire situation. Entering last night’s games, the Penguins were 12 points ahead of Florida, the first team currently out of the playoffs in the Eastern Conference. They were just three points off the lead in both the conference and Metropolitan Division.
If any team knows it’s meaningless to be kings of January, it’s the Penguins.
But Wednesday’s 4-0 loss at Washington seemed a watershed. The Penguins were non-competitive. The Capitals won by submission, not knockout. Crosby was badly outplayed by rival Alex Ovechkin. All that happened in front of a national TV audience. Pride should kick in. It didn’t. Not for any Penguin.
The Penguins have won just six of 19 games against divisional foes. Crosby has 12 points in 18 games against Metro teams and is minus-6.
That’s a wake-up call. Maybe it’s time to quit punching the snooze button.
Mark Madden hosts a radio show 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WXDX-FM (105.9).
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