SAN JOSE – Perhaps Sidney Crosby will never score 100 points ever again. Then again, maybe he will. If you go by analytics, logic states that his numbers should begin declining at some point pretty soon. But he proved in the Stanley Cup final, and by winning the Conn Smythe Trophy as the playoff MVP, that he’s about so much more than numbers.
“I think Sidney Crosby’s best hockey is ahead of him,” said Penguins assistant GM Bill Guerin.
Whoa there, cowboy. Best hockey ahead of him? Two Stanley Cups, two scoring championships, two Hart Trophies, a Conn Smythe, five 100-point seasons, two Olympic gold medals and a space waiting for his plaque in the Hockey Hall of Fame and his best hockey is still ahead of him? Well, if you consider that Crosby has essentially turned himself into a Selke Trophy candidate and that he’s altered his entire game a la Steve Yzerman, perhaps that’s not as outlandish as it sounds.
“I think it’s the best comparison you can make,” said GM Jim Rutherford when asked if Crosby is following the Yzerman career path. “We talked about it a little bit when I first got here. It was what Scotty (former Red Wings coach Bowman) did with Yzerman. You don’t have to score as many points to be successful. Be the all-round player. And he’s the all-round player.”
To be sure, the Sidney Crosby who raised the Stanley Cup in triumph seven years ago and the one that raised it Sunday night in San Jose are very different players and people. As expected, Crosby is a far more disciplined player and leader now. The same player who had earned a reputation for complaining to referees a little too much accepted the liberties taken on him – and handed a few of them out himself – without so much as batting an eyelash.
But it was Crosby’s commitment to the two-way game that stood out, particularly in the final. He had just four assists in the series, but how many goals did Joe Pavelski and Joe Thornton score in the final? Well, let’s look it up here. Oh, that would be one. Combined. And it was an empty-net goal by Pavelski in Game 5. There was not an area of the ice where Crosby did not make a pivotal contribution. His pass to Conor Sheary in Game 1 was a thing of beauty, his larceny in the faceoff circle in overtime of Game 2 was a game-changer. But his commitment to shutting down his opponents and allowing others to contribute offense was the most prominent of his contributions.
“There’s more to just winning games than scoring goals,” Crosby said. “It feels great, it’s important. That’s what our job is. But there’s a lot of other things that go into it. Just making sure that you don’t sacrifice all those other things to push for a goal here or there, that was the biggest thing.”
There are those who would prefer to see a goal here or there, your trusty correspondent included. Would it be more entertaining to watch Crosby score 120 points a year and another 40 in the playoffs. Hell, yeah. But one thing you have to understand about the NHL is that entertainment is not part of the on-ice equation. Teams are rewarded for stopping goals more than scoring them and as insipid as that notion is, it is what wins hockey games, playoff series and, ultimately, Stanley Cups. And Crosby is coming to the realization that it has to be a big part of his game if he wants to keep on winning. It’s called “playing the game the right way,” by hockey people. And they’re the ones who influence the game.
“What I really admire about Sid is that it didn’t matter,” said Penguins coach Mike Sullivan. “All that mattered was we were winning. And that was all he cared about. He was a handful every shift. He elevates his game at the right time to get our team over the hump. His numbers are no indication of how hard he played or the impact he had on helping us win.”
Sidney Crosby, 82-point scorer, two-way stalwart, defensive demon. It might just be something we’re all going to have to get used to hearing in the future. And his opponents will have to learn to deal with it.