Weekly Check-UpPosted: 23/03/2012
Well it’s been a week and a day, and 5 games, since Sidney Crosby returned to the Penguins lineup. In 5 games back he’s only put up 9 points (admittedly all assists) and the team has gone 4-0-1 in that stretch. Not too shabby.
More importantly than Crosby’s individual numbers is the impact he has had on his linemates, Matt Cooke (5G-2A-7P) and Tyler Kennedy (2G-4A-6P) who have each produced at their best level over these past 5 games. Further the coaches seemed to have found a really good balance for the lines. They have done exactly what they need to do—make no changes to the top line, play Sid and Jordan Staal together from time to time, and once we get a lead, move Staal between Kennedy and Cooke as a top flight shutdown line. Further, although the numbers aren’t amazing yet, the power play is terrifying in its current configuration, Crosby has clearly benefitted from the added vision playing on the point and the upfront guys have continued to do what they have done all year.
But how is he holding up? Well I have no idea truly, but from what I’ve seen, he is getting better and healthier with every game. I’m not just saying this. Except for the second game back against the Devils, Crosby has seen a slight increase in his minutes every game, although he did play 6 seconds less last night than he did on Tuesday, but who’s counting. This tells me that the coaches believe that he is getting stronger every game. Not only do the coaches believe it, but it seems apparent to my untrained eye that he is getting stronger every game. He’s skating better, the plays he has been making have been becoming ever more spectacular, and he’s going to the tough spots more often. This stands in opposition to comeback 1, after that first magical game, you could almost see Crosby tiring out in the rest of the games he played. And even then, he just seems to be playing more intelligently. Crosby would be the first to admit that he probably pushed too hard when he came back the first time, he was attempting to prove that he was the exact same player he had been when he got injured. The fact of the matter is, this just doesn’t happen—it had taken Crosby 5 years to get to that point of sheer dominance, working on one element at a time until he had everything in place. After nearly a year away, you have to understand that some of that is going to atrophy a little bit, and you’ll have to work to get it back, rather than just force it to happen. And that’s what Sid has been doing this time around. He’s making smart plays rather than fancy plays. Trust me that is just as important as any of the spectacular things that we have seen Crosby do in past.
I don’t think it’s going to take Sid 5 years to build his skills back to where they were either. I feel like it will be like the bike riding allegory. He might not be one hundred percent right this second, but the things that he has learned to do he hasn’t forgotten, he just needs to sort out that muscle memory and then it will start to click again. That’s especially true for the goals. I understand that Sid has no goals against NHL goalies this year, but that will come. This is part of Crosby playing smarter: he’s not just throwing himself at every rebound, he’s picking his spots and keeping his head up, and I would rather see him do that than risk more head injuries by diving headfirst into three defenders.
So far Crosby has been more or less left alone by opposing teams. It helps when opposing teams have still been forced (and failing miserably I might add) to stop Evgeni Malkin as the team’s primary threat. But I would also argue that Crosby’s linemates have helped to keep him safe, there haven’t been too many scrums when Crosby has been on the ice, but those that have happened you have always seen Cooke and to a lesser degree Kennedy right in the middle of the scrum protecting their captain. In other words, things are pretty good for the Pens right now.
The Pens have qualified for the playoffs; they are one point behind the Rangers with one game left against them. Opposing teams literally don’t know how to match up against the Pens, and there are still 9 games left in the regular season. This is just the beginning.