At age 29, Sidney Crosby has accomplished just about everything one could hope for over the course of an NHL career. But somehow – fresh off Stanley Cup and World Cup of Hockey championships, with MVP honors in both – the Penguins’ captain is showing that he might have even more to give.
After missing the first six games of the season with a concussion suffered in practice, Crosby is back. And it’s taken him just three games to reassert his standing as the Penguins’ on-ice, off-ice and emotional leader.
In Crosby’s first game of the season last Tusday, his Penguins continued an early-season trend of slow starts, spotting the Florida Panthers a 2-0 lead by 6:08 into the second period. Later in that frame, with an opportunity on the power play, Crosby corralled Evgeni Malkin’s pass in front of the net and roofed it past goalie James Reimer. Pittsburgh had new life – and, on goals from Malkin and Eric Fehr, took a 3-2 lead midway through the third that held up as the game’s final score.
“I thought he had a real good start tonight. For me, he didn’t miss a beat out there,” said head coach Mike Sullivan. “He was winning faceoffs, battling down low, brought a lot of speed to the game, and he scores a big goal for us.”
Hosting the Islanders two nights later, it was Crosby who broke a 2-2 tie with 2:25 remaining in the contest, paving the way for a 4-2 Pittsburgh win. Saturday in Philadelphia, with the Penguins again in a 2-0 hole by 13:02 into the first, it was Crosby who brushed off the taunts that come with the territory in Flyers country and lifted his team on his back, scoring twice in a span of 43 seconds to pull the Penguins even. And, once again, the team followed its captain’s lead, emerging with an eventual 5-4 win.
“[They’re] emotional games” between the cross-state rivals, Crosby said. “As a player, those are the games you want to be a part of. The intensity and the emotion [are] high between the two teams. It’s always much better when you win here.”
Crosby’s game has picked up right where it left off from the Stanley Cup and World Cup, showing no effects from his concussion or brief layoff so far.
“Still can do better executing, I think, but that’s just going to come with time and playing games,” Crosby said. “For the most part, I feel like I’ve been able to adjust pretty well.”
It’s probably not a coincidence that the Penguins’ power play is adjusting pretty well to having Crosby back, too. After converting just 5 times in 25 opportunities (20 percent) with Crosby out of the lineup, Pittsburgh has gone 4 for 9 (44.4 percent) in the three games since his return, even with its most important defenseman, Kris Letang, sidelined with an upper-body injury.
On the power play and in all situations, Crosby brings movement, creativity, shot mentality and faceoff wins that help his team establish and maintain offensive zone time. So it’s probably not a coincidence, either, that the offense overall has come alive since his return, scoring as many goals (12) in the three games since Crosby’s comeback as it did in the six he missed.
“He brings so much to our team, both in the locker room off the ice and on the ice,” Sullivan said. “His play speaks for itself; everybody sees that. He’s a 200-foot player – he plays at both ends of the rink, he plays on both sides of the puck. His attention to detail is terrific. I think his compete level is contagious, and his intensity. So he leads in all those ways on the ice.”
As important as Crosby is as a player, however, his off-ice leadership makes just as strong of an imprint.
“His influence in the locker room – his voice in between periods, on the bench – is every bit as important as far as the mindset of our group and moving in the direction we want to move,” Sullivan said. “I can’t say enough about him.
“We’re grateful that we got him back in our lineup. We’re certainly a better team when he’s in.”