So, what did we learn from the Pittsburgh Penguins shootout win over the Montreal Canadiens Wednesday night? Well, we know Mike Condon isn’t perfect. We also know that Sidney Crosby isn’t perfect, but he’s getting better.
Crosby went into his team’s 4-3 shootout win tied for 175th place in NHL scoring. Two assists later, he moved up more than 50 spots to tied for 124th. But the best part of Crosby’s performance was that he had an impact on the game right at the beginning and right at the end. His shootout goal on Condon, the second the young Canadiens gave up in two shots, put the game out of reach.
And his sweet pass to running mate Pascal Dupuis 13 seconds into the game was vintage Crosby, pulling the puck out of the corner along the wall and putting it through two opposing sticks right onto the tape of a teammate.
What came between the two plays, well that wasn’t quite as encouraging. The same player who has led the Penguins in shots the past two season registered only two of them on net. (To be fair, Crosby did have seven shot attempts, second on the team to Phil Kessel.) And there were several instances when we saw that Crosby frustration, one of which led to a completely needless penalty.
You’d have to wonder why Crosby is so frustrated. To be sure, things are not going as well from an individual standpoint this season for him, but barring injury, he still has 67 games to get things right. And judging by the performance he put on in the first half of the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season, we all know what Crosby is capable of doing once he gets on a roll. And things appear to be coming along nicely for his team, winners of eight of their past 10 games after losing their first three games and currently occupiers of second place in the Metropolitan Division.
There still seems to be a sense that something is off on this team and with Crosby. Perhaps that’s the case, but it’s far too early for Crosby to be getting frustrated with things. The Penguins have won 10 games this season and are right in the thick of things. The awkward adjustment period appears to be over and while there is still a lot of work to do, particularly on the defensive side of the game, and the Penguins seem to be finding their groove.
Is their captain about to follow? Well, the kind of results he produced Wednesday night could certainly used as a springboard for him. A two-assist game with a pivotal shootout goal should have one of the world’s premier players feeling good about himself. In reality, Crosby will likely take almost as many shots as has in previous seasons, but you’d have to think there’s room for him to pick it up there. Perhaps scoring on the shootout will convince Crosby he has to be a little more selfish when the puck is on his stick. The night after Alex Ovechkin had 15 shots on goal, Crosby had just two of them. And his team could have used a couple of shots in the second period when it was outshot by a 13-1 margin.
If this was indeed a statement game for Crosby, the statement is that there’s nothing wrong with him that perhaps a few more shots wouldn’t cure. Yes, Crosby’s shooting percentage is way down from previous seasons, it's at about 4.9 percent. What analytics tells us is that you can expect a market correction on that. Going into this season, Crosby has had a career shooting percentage of 14.4 percent, so we know he can score. Chances are, his ability to hit the net will be far closer to his career norm than it has been so far this season. And it’s not as though Crosby, with two goals on 41 shots, is the only elite player having a difficult time finding the back of the net. Jakub Voracek has zero goals on 56 shots this season. Nazem Kadri has unleashed 63 shots and has just one goal to show for his efforts.
The goals and points will come for Crosby, perhaps not quite as abundantly as they have in recent years. But if Crosby can make them count the way he did Wednesday night, he and the Penguins will have few worries this season.