By Joe Starkey, PITTSBURGH TRIBUNE-REVIEW
Thursday, March 22, 2012
Sidney Crosby #87 of the Pittsburgh Penguins handles the puck against the Winnipeg Jets during the game at Consol Energy Center on March 20, 2012 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
If this Crosby kid ever gets his timing down, look out.
Are you watching this?
Are you watching this?
I ask twice because it's easy to take Sidney Crosby's magnificence for granted. He returns after missing several months, and it's like, "Of course he's lapping the field in points per game. That's what he does."
Nobody does this.
Check that. Mario Lemieux did this, and then some. He made the most remarkable comeback in sports history. Returned from 3.5 years of retirement, at age 35, and immediately became the most prolific point producer in the NHL.
You won't see that again.
But if you blink — or spend even a nanosecond worrying about Crosby's career-long 11-game goal drought — you might miss something special.
Like a behind-the-back pass that triggers a tic-tac-toe goal.
Or a 50-foot backhand saucer pass that lands on a teammate's tape.
Or a cross-ice bullet from one knee that winds up in Evgeni Malkin's wheelhouse for a one-time goal.
Crosby has nine points in four games since he returned to the lineup, 21 points in 12 games overall. That averages to 1.75 points per game, easily tops in the NHL and better than the torrid pace he carried last season, when he was headed for the league's first 130-point season since 1995-96. (Lemieux had 161 that year.)
This is ridiculous. You could freeze Crosby in a cryogenics lab for 20 years, pull him out and drop him into a game, and he'd put up three assists.
Remember, he missed training camp. He has missed so many months of competitive hockey. It takes a fellow player to truly appreciate what the man is doing.
"I missed training camp, too, so I can put it into perspective," defenseman Brooks Orpik said. "Training camp is where you get all your timing back, get your good conditioning out of the way for the rest of the season. When you miss that, you don't have a lot of time in-season to play catch up."
Crosby's perfectionism is at work here, as well. Teammates could see he was capable of inflicting damage weeks before his latest return. He was ready. But he wasn't Sid-ready.
Wasn't ready to dominate.
"I think, even three weeks before he came back, we were saying, 'Geez, he looks great. Why isn't he playing?' " Orpik said, laughing. "That's Sid. He's such a perfectionist. I think if he came back too early and wasn't at the level he's used to, it would drive him crazy."
Here's the scary part: Crosby isn't at the level he's used to. Finishing will be the last part of his game to come together. And it will come together, perhaps starting tonight against Nashville.
It's just a matter of time. Crosby's minutes will go up — he hasn't cracked the 20-minute mark since his return — and his touch will come back.
"It takes time to get that anticipation and reaction back," Crosby said after Tuesday's game. "That's the difference sometimes. You have to go to those (scoring) areas and trust your instincts and hopefully get the bounces."
Martin Brodeur robbed Crosby with a blind, blade save last weekend. A Winnipeg defenseman cleared a Crosby shot just before it crossed the goal line Tuesday.
"Obviously, I love to score, so I want to take advantage of the chances I get," Crosby said. "But there's not a lot I would change at this point, really."
No, things at this point are pretty good. Fantastic, actually. How fun is it to see the band back together? The way the Penguins whipped the puck around Tuesday, "Sweet Georgia Brown" would have been appropriate background music.
Crosby and Malkin are beginning to make beautiful music together on the power play. Penguins television analyst Bob Errey put it well after the game Tuesday, saying this might be the closest we ever come to seeing Lemieux and Wayne Gretzky on the same team.
Anyone in his right mind would label a healthy Penguins team the bet to win it all. I asked winger Pascal Dupuis if the players welcome the favorite's role.
"Yeah, why not?" he said. "The way we feel, we're confident in ourselves right now. If people want to say that about us, perfect."
Dupuis winked and added, "They're maybe a little scared of us."
They should be.