Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Uh, oh! Sidney Crosby is starting to do Sidney Crosby things

By Tim Benz
March 25, 2018

Sidney Crosby #87 of the Pittsburgh Penguins moves the puck in front of Sean Couturier #14 of the Philadelphia Flyers at PPG Paints Arena on March 25, 2018 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Joe Sargent/NHLI via Getty Images)

Some of the things wrong with the Penguins might not be fixed before the playoffs.
Shot suppression has been an issue. The Penguins averaged 33.6 shots against over the past six games. That'd be the sixth-worst average projected over the course of this year.
As Mike Sullivan said after Sunday's 45-shot performance from the Flyers, "It seems like every shot they are taking is getting to the net."
With Marc Andre Fleury in Vegas and Matt Murray playing through a season plagued by injury and personal loss, the goaltending just might not be as pinpoint as the past two seasons.
The Penguins are 24th in save percentage.
The penalty kill is below average. It ranks 17th at 80.3 percent, and 48 power-play goals allowed is 11th most.
But if these defensive deficiencies don't get corrected, something of note offensively seems to be improving to offset some of those woes.
Sidney Crosby is starting to do Sidney Crosby things.
That's bad news for the rest of hockey.
There really hasn't been much to complain about regarding Crosby this season. He's ninth in points with 83.
Crosby is eighth in assists with 57. He's played in every game, and entering Sunday he was 10th in average ice time and second in faceoff wins. Plus, he had 38 takeaways, which put him on pace for his best total since 2013-14.
There's a lot of good there.
However, the captain isn't scoring goals at the rate we are used to seeing.
Crosby's 44 goals last season led the league. He's got 26 so far this year. Entering Sunday, that was good for 41st in the league. His 11.3 shooting percentage as of Sunday would be a career low in a full season. Over the first nine games in March, he only scored twice.
That appears to be changing.
Crosby has scored a goal in each of his last three games. It's not just that the puck is going in the net, it's how — and when — Crosby is making that happen.
He's doing it in typical Crosby fashion, and the goals are coming at crucial moments.
Against Montreal on Wednesday, Crosby deposited that now-famous, double-swat-in-the-air goal past Carey Price to tie the game. The Penguins went on to win 5-3.
Minutes into Friday's game against New Jersey, Crosby got the Penguins on the board with one of his patented kick-the-puck-to-himself moves.
Then in the third period of a tied game against the Flyers on Sunday, Crosby scored a prototypical Crosby-kind-of goal.
One hand on the stick. Protecting the puck on his back hand with his backside. Warding off Sean Couturier. Driving through the legs. Creating shooting space with a couple of choppy stick-handling moves to get Shayne Gostisbehere down to the ice, then elevating a wrist shot over him and beyond goaltender Petr Mrazek.
It won't go down as one of Crosby's top 20 goals. Yet, it summed up what went into the other 407 he has scored.
"I think he's the hardest player to get the puck away from in the league," Sullivan said. "He protects as well as anyone. That goal is an indication of how difficult of a player he is to check or defend.
"We're seeing that more and more from Sid."
Crosby wasn't done, firing a tape-to-tape pass to Bryan Rust in front of a wide-open net to win the game in overtime 5-4.
"You can tell he is elevating his game at the right time of the year," Rust said. "In the times when his team needs him the most, that's when he makes the big plays."
With Crosby going in the goal department, that could cancel some of the defensive issues that could challenge the Penguins the rest of the season. After the win Sunday, Crosby seemed pleased at the notion his play might be a harbinger of things to come in the postseason.
"It's great when it's going in," he said. "If you are creating chances as a line, I think you gain momentum and confidence from that."
No. 87 on a hot streak is a great eraser for a lot of negatives.
If he can keep it rolling, it might be an eraser for the playoff bracket for a third year in a row.
Tim Benz is a columnist for the Tribune-Review. He hosts the Steelers pregame show on WDVE and ESPN Pittsburgh. He is a regular host/contributor on KDKA-TV and 105.9 FM.

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