x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

NHL: Penguins and Crosby marching on relentlessly

The Pittsburgh forward ensures exhaustion and short slumps do not hurt Penguins, writes Rob McKenzie

PITTSBURGH, PA - MARCH 18: Sidney Crosby #87 of the Pittsburgh Penguins celebrates his first period goal against the Dallas Stars during the game at Consol Energy Center on March 18, 2014 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.   Justin K. Aller/Getty Images/AFP== FOR NEWSPAPERS, INTERNET, TELCOS & TELEVISION USE ONLY ==
PITTSBURGH, PA - MARCH 18: Sidney Crosby #87 of the Pittsburgh Penguins celebrates his first period goal against the Dallas Stars during the game at Consol Energy Center on March 18, 2014 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Justin K. Aller/Getty Images/AFP== FOR NEWSPAPERS, INTERNET, TELCOS & TELEVISION USE ONLY ==

He must be so tired.

Sidney Crosby is leading the NHL’s scoring race by 18 points. He was Team Canada’s captain at the Olympics.

He averages 21 minutes, 58 seconds of ice time per game, second-most of any forward in the NHL.

He has held the Pittsburgh Penguins together even as they have lost vastly more man-games to injury than any other team.

He is the league’s best player, to the point where his eminence can be taken for granted – much like Tim Duncan’s in basketball over the years.

This month, the wear and tear on Crosby has shown. On March 7, he went a career-worst minus-5 in a 5-3 loss at the San Jose Sharks. Eight days later, in the first of two losses on consecutive nights to the Philadelphia Flyers, he was a team-worst minus-3 in a 4-0 defeat.

Overall, the Penguins are only 6-4-2 since the Olympic break after going 40-15-3 before it.

What is instructive, though, is how quickly Crosby bounces back from his short slumps.

After the lost weekend against the Flyers, he scored two goals an assist in a 5-1 win over the Dallas Stars. But it was in the game after the San Jose loss that his resilience was most impressive.

The Anaheim Ducks had utterly dominated through two periods. Crosby had no shots on net, and overall the Ducks were outshooting the Penguins 23-7. After Anaheim scored early in the third period for a 2-1 lead, Penguins were hanging on, and barely at that.

Then, midway through the third, the Ducks took a tripping penalty. With the man advantage, Crosby fired a pinpoint pass from the side boards to Evgeni Malkin who, from the high slot, scored to tie the game.

Crosby raised his game in overtime. First, he intercepted a pass to get a breakaway. Jonas Hiller stopped the shot but Crosby got to the rebound first. He made a quick pass to the slot.

A few passes later, the puck came back to him. He did a spin move on his defender, circled the net and tried to stuff the puck in.

No go.

The puck came back to him one more time, but this time his spin move was blocked by Anaheim’s Cam Fowler.

Pittsburgh would win the shoot-out, with Crosby scoring in his round. If he does not take any nights off – and he has not yet – and presuming the Penguins appear in, say, 15 play-off matches – he will end the season having played 107 games (including pre-season matches).

Whenever it comes, the enduring Sidney Crosby will have earned his rest.

rmckenzie@thenational.ae

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