In its tournament opener against Norway, Canada got the offense it was hoping for, hanging eight goals on a bunch of Vikings and at least one carpenter in a shutout victory.
OK, most of the Norwegians actually play in the Swedish Elite League and left winger Mats Zuccarello-Aasen even ranks third in league scoring, but for Canada this was a tune-up, hence the shelling of goalie/artisan Pal Grotnes, who was smartly pulled after four goals (there are also reports he had leg cramps, but it was time to go anyway).
Leading the charge was the line of Sidney Crosby, Rick Nash and Jarome Iginla (who replaced Patrice Bergeron on the trifecta). Crosby once again showed off his premier playmaking side in the opener, dishing out three lovelies to his linemates.
Almost makes you forget his 42 goals ties him for the NHL lead with rival Alex Ovechkin.
But that’s the thing about Crosby; he’s constantly improving himself. Ovie is a force of nature, while Crosby is an evolutionary process, if you will.
Sid the Kid’s young NHL career is marked by stepping stones. As a rookie in 2005-06, his faceoff win percentage was just 45.5 percent and although his 102 points were fantastic (and 44 more than the next-best Penguin, defenseman Sergei Gonchar), they weren’t enough for the Calder Trophy, which went to Ovechkin and his 106 points.
One season later, it’s Crosby hoisting the Art Ross and Hart Trophies, plus the Pearson Award, courtesy his league-leading 120 points. Faceoff percentage rises to nearly 50 percent. In his first sojourn into the playoffs, however, Sid and the boys get smacked by Ottawa in the first round.
Next season? Revenge on Ottawa in the first round, Crosby leads the playoffs in scoring before falling to the Red Wings in the final. Faceoff percentage now 51.4 percent.
Next season? Crosby and the Pens get revenge on Detroit by beating the Wings in the Stanley Cup final.
This year, defending the Cup is naturally a goal, but clearly Crosby has made personal puck-burying a priority, too: The Kid is on pace for his first-ever 50-goal season in the NHL. His previous best has already been surpassed (39 as a rookie) and don’t be thrown by the fact he was – and likely will continue to be – a setup man while wearing Canada’s red and white. The fact is, Nash and Iginla are two of the best snipers in the world and Sid’s devious passes are catnip for composites.
But for all his achievements, the one thing Crosby still needs in his young career is an Olympic gold medal (sorry, IIHF, but the World Championship is a consolation prize for an NHL season gone wrong).
Don’t forget Crosby was snubbed by Team Canada back in 2006; he didn’t even have a chance at Olympic gold. But with his skills and a history of besting personal achievements, Canada couldn’t ask for a better centerpiece on this year’s home soil-protecting squad. Oh, and his faceoff percentage in the NHL is up to 56.7 percent.
Ryan Kennedy is a writer and copy editor for The Hockey News magazine, the co-author of the book Hockey’s Young Guns and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears Monday and Wednesday, his column – The Straight Edge – every Friday, and his prospect feature, The Hot List appears Tuesdays.
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