The role of the garbage man has never been so glamorous.
Sidney Crosby may not (yet) be the best player in NHL history at playing on the lip of the crease, but he’s the best player in NHL history who scores the majority of his goals from the lip of the crease.
Success from three feet out has always been more about will than skill. Ryan Smyth has been ribbed about his popgun slapshot by teammates his entire career, but he’s carved out an elite NHL existence by scoring goals while standing in a space not everyone is willing to occupy.
He’s not alone. The list of guys who didn’t have goal-scoring shots, but were willing to absorb shots of every kind while tipping and whacking their way to riches include Dino Ciccarelli, Dave Andreychuk and Tomas Holmstrom.
Now comes Crosby, who is like the guys listed above in that he doesn’t possess a great shot, but differs from them in that he could be an elite point-producer based on his playmaking skills alone, even if he never ventured to within 10 feet of the net.
It’s like a guy who has art hanging in the Louvre deciding he wants to paint houses, too.
(In fairness to the aforementioned players, it should be noted life in front of the net involves a lot less ice packs in the aftermath of post-lockout rule changes.)
I know NHL players have a hard time getting on the same page when it comes to group representation these days, but one of these muckers might want to start a garbage man union to protect the under-skilled, but thick-skinned warriors from losing their small swath of precious ice to more pretty boy invaders.
In truth, Crosby’s net presence is just more evidence of his incredible hockey sense and ability to adapt. It wasn’t that long ago people were whispering about the fact that Sid, strong as he was in most every facet of the game, really didn’t bend the twine as often as the guys he’s lumped in with in “best ever” conversations.
Then came last year’s playoffs, when Crosby began crowding the crease and filling the net to the tune of 15 goals in 24 post-season games.
A hat trick Wednesday night against Montreal gave the Pens captain nine in 12 contests this season, many of them from close in. In all, Crosby has scored 36 times in his past 55 regular season and playoff games combined.
That translates to roughly a 54-goal showing over an 82-game schedule, which is 15 more tallies than Crosby’s previous season high of 39 in his freshman campaign.
Kudos to Crosby for recognizing, no matter what kind of stick technology breaks or how he alters his blade curve, he was never going to be mistaken for Al MacInnis.
So he shuffled closer to the goal, summoned more of the determination that spills through in all aspects of his game, deployed a backhand that would make Roger Federer proud, and started stuffing the net.
In the process, he became the most talented player ever to regularly pick up trash.
Ryan Dixon 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 Thursdays and his column, Top Shelf, appears Wednesdays.
For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.