When Sidney Crosby threw that backhand shot toward the front of the net, banking it off of goalie Henrik Lundqvist and in with 55.3 seconds left to tie Tuesday’s game and send it to overtime, not a single one of his teammates was surprised.
“He works on it every single practice,” said winger Patric Hornqvist, who set it up – with an unintentional hand pass that Crosby had the presence of mind to wait for Rangers defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk to touch before recollecting it and taking the shot.
“Every time the rebound goes in the corner, he goes and gets it and tries to bank it off the goalie. He’s the best player in the world and it’s crazy that he can do that stuff, but I’m not surprised.”
Former Ranger and current Penguin Carl Hagelin? Also impressed, but not surprised.
“I think he’s probably the best player in the league at banking pucks off guys and just finding them from any area,” Hagelin said. “That’s why he’s the player he is.”
The opposition, on the other hand, was a little taken aback. Even if they’ve seen this from Crosby a time or two before.
“He banged it off me, and it’s not the first time that happens,” Lundqvist said. “As a goalie you just need to make sure you’re alert. I try to just deflect the pass but, when he goes right at you like that, sometimes you need some luck.
“When they bang it off like that on your stick, you just hope it doesn’t go the way it went in; it went backwards instead of in front of me. Sometimes you almost have to hide behind the post. Some players do it; Crosby does it a lot. Maybe a little surprising. I didn’t expect that.”
That goal gave the Penguins an opportunity to win the game, 5-4, in overtime. And it was the icing on the cake after two equally impossible goals from Crosby in Saturday’s 4-3 win over the Florida Panthers.
There was this one, off a pass from Phil Kessel, that Crosby lifted over goalie James Reimer.
“He’s good,” Letang said. “His hand-eye is outstanding, one of the top in the league like we’ve seen, batting pucks in the air and stuff like that. These guys like Geno [Malkin] and Sid, you just have to put a puck towards them and they make something good happen.”
“Just trying to put it toward the net and get lucky,” Crosby shrugged.
Crosby’s head coach has seen it enough that he’s learned to expect the unexpected.
“It doesn’t surprise me, because I see him do it all the time,” Mike Sullivan said. “He has such great hand-eye coordination. I think he’s the best in the game in and around that net, in close, just as far as getting his stick on shots coming in, pulling the puck out of people’s feet and having the skill to be able to get pucks over goaltenders or get in the top half of the net.”
That comes not just from talent, but from the kind of hard work that’s willing to go to the dirty areas some players of Crosby’s caliber might prefer to avoid.
“A lot of it speaks to his skill level, but it’s also his determination,” Sullivan said. “He’s in the battle areas all the time.”
That goes for practice, too, where Crosby is always trying to fine-tune his game.
“We work on it a lot,” Crosby said. “[Hornqvist] and I, at least four or five times a week, are working on stuff like that. He loves doing those kinds of drills in and around the net. We end up there a lot; we want to make sure we get our stick on pucks.”
And, if they’re lucky, those pucks just might find their way in. Regardless of the bounces they had to take to get there. Or the goalies who are left shaking their heads for an answer.
“I don’t know what else to say; just a tough goal to give up that late in the game,” Lundqvist said. “Sometimes it’s easier to face a shot than have a play like that.”