Obligatory “ZOMG Crozbee Iz Teh Awesome!” Write-up
Confession time. I did not grow up a Pens fan. I started watching hockey around the late 1980s, and my first favorite team was the Vancouver Canucks. Petri Skriko. Trevor Linden. Pavel Bure.
Now, that’s not to say the Pens weren’t up there on the list; they certainly were. I remember watching them on KBL or PrimeSports or whatever it was called in the early 1990s. I watched the Cup-clinching slaughter in Minnesota in 1991 and then the sweep of the Blackhawks the following year.
But I never really took the opportunity to pay attention to Lemieux in those prime years of his career. I was just about a year into changing allegiances from the Canucks to the Pens when Lemieux was buried that puck behind Garth Snow in the ’97 playoffs, what we all thought was his last home game ever.
But had I seen Lemieux in his prime, I have to imagine it must have looked something along the lines of what Sidney Crosby is doing to the NHL right now. Bill Guerin yesterday called in an “assault”. Perhaps “scorched earth” might be a better term.
Check out some of these numbers.
= Crosby leads with the league with 48 points in 29 games. He’s 8 points ahead of second-place Steve Stamkos and 13 points ahead of Ovechkin. Ovechkin taking the bronze to Crosby’s gold? Sounds about right, eh
= Crosby’s 24 goals lead the league, three ahead of Stamkos’s 21 and six ahead of Alexander Semin’s 18.
= His 24 assists are good for second in the league. Only Henrik Sedin has more with 27.
= His points-per-game average of 1.66 is the highest the league has seen since Mario Lemieux’s 1.76 ppg (in 43 games) in 2000-01 and Jaromir Jagr’s 1.57 ppg in 1998-99.
= If he maintains this current pace, Crosby will finish the season with 68 goals, 68 assists and 136 points. Those would be highest single-season totals in goals and points that the league has seen since one Mario Lemieux in 1995-96 (69-92-161).
“You think it’s funny now, Yags? Wait four more years until he passes your ass in the team record books.”
= The Pens have now played 29 games. Sid has points in 25 of them.
= Over his current 16-game point streak, he has 18 goals and 15 assists. That’s 2.06 points per game. Lemieux-esque.
Look, more than enough has been written about Crosby on a national level. He’s the NHL’s biggest drawing card and he’s promoted as such. Not trying to argue any differently, or convince anyone that he’s somehow undersold, underrated or not talked about enough by the hockey media. Lord knows even most Pens fans – myself included – get a little bit sick of seeing it all the time, so it’s understandable that fans of opposing teams bash him and the league for it. It’s the reason an almost-slewfoot committed by him is still being talked about on NHL Live 48 hours after it happens.
But lost in the occasional fits of Crosby-bashing is this – it’s almost impossible now to claim he has not lived up to the hype. In lieu of the numbers he’s posting this year and the successes the team despite certain setbacks, how can anyone really claim that Crosby hasn’t?
His numbers this year are nearly at the same plateau that we saw from Jagr and Lemieux. His production has been sick, and he’s doing it while playing on a line with Chris Kunitz and Pascal Dupuis. Those guys are great for this system, but Kevin Stevens and Ron Francis they are not.
He doesn’t deserve the “C”? The Pens have won ten straight and they’ve taken 25 of the last 26 possible standings points. They’re tops in the league with 40 points. That means nothing between now and April outside of home ice advantage, but the fact that they’ve done this without Jordan Staal and with Evgeni Malkin mired in the worst slump of his career is at least some sort of reflection on Crosby.
None of the hyperbole or anything does it justice, neither on an individual level nor a team level. Crosby’s ascension to the points and goals lead has shades of Lemieux’s overtaking of Lafontaine all over it, and in a lot of these games, Crosby’s gone into this new-found “eff you” mode. Maybe that’s been the most fun thing to watch in terms of his play. The team itself is playing at a level that we haven’t really seen since The Cup Run of 2009. Blue Jackets players the other night were skating around with the Corvo face.
Crosby’s critics always used to say the thing that drove them the most insane was the way the league’s marketing folks heaped so much on his before he really earned it. There’s certainly a point to be made there. Five and a half years later now, it’s become almost impossible to say he hasn’t earned it.
= Was in the stands last night for the Guerin ceremony. What a great response from the fans. Amazing to see how guys like Guerin – and Gary Roberts before him – spend such a relatively short time in Pittsburgh but become so loved by the fans. Maybe it’s the approach. Maybe it’s the fact that both guys seemed to genuinely appreciate the fan base, especially Guerin.
= Favorite Guerin moment (and I think I may have mentioned this one before). In the aftermath of the Cup win, Stan Savran was conducting interviews in the locker room area for FSN Pittsburgh. He managed to get a few minutes with Crosby. As Stan was interviewing Crosby, Guerin just came over – perhaps a bottle of champagne in tow - and stood right next to Crosby, almost at first as if he was going to interject himself into the interview. But Guerin just stood there with this stupid, satisfied, proud grin on his face.
= Orpik, Letang, Michalek and Martin. All four of them are coming together exactly the way Shero appears to have planned, and they’re a big reason why this team has been playing so well the last four weeks. Michalek has been every bit as good as advertised.
= Note to some fans calling into the postgame shows: The return of Jordan Staal to the lineup in a few weeks cannot possibly be a bad thing. You don’t put a player like Staal back into the lineup and get worse. And a player like Staal is not going to disrupt any chemistry. If anything else, it just means that you’re going to have a pretty deserving forward in the pressbox every night.
= Note to some other fans calling into postgame shows: The success that Sidney Crosby is having combined with the imminent return of Jordan Staal does not automatically mean Malkin is on the trading block. Malkin can in fact turn his game around. Please see the example of one “Fleury, Marc-Andre”. He’s the same guys some of you wanted shipped out of town or sent to Wilkes-Barre a month ago. The return of Staal will likely do wonders for Malkin as well. That, and some of this whiskey…
= Quick look at the opposite end of the spectrum. Mike Comrie has been an easy joke target this year and rightfully so, to some degree. Comrie was a low-cost signing that was worth the shot Shero took on him, and it just hasn’t worked out. With Staal’s return within the next few weeks imminent and Chris Conner and Mark Letestu finding homes on the third line, Comrie’s time in Pittsburgh may be coming to a close.
Worth noting, though, that by all accounts, Comrie has handled this situation with the same degree of professionalism that Miroslav Satan did in 2008-09. Satan was cast as the Official Roster Pariah right about this time two years ago, and was eventually demoted to the AHL to make salary cap room available for the acquisition of Bill Guerin at the deadline.
Two months later, Miro Satan was hoisting the Stanley Cup in Detroit.
Say what you want about Comrie and his play... it has not been good. But he’s handled this much better than some previous veterans before him who found themselves with reduced playing time (John Leclair, I’m looking in your direction here).
= Consol snack advice coming from someone whose physique screams “he has experience with this sort of thing”: Tim Horton’s hot chocolate = $2.00. Box of ten Timbits = $2.25. That’s the best food value at the new digs.
= Given what we saw on Saturday night in Columbus, and having seen the contingents of fans Columbus has brought to Pittsburgh on occasion, a BlueJackets-Pens Stanley
Cup Final would be absolutely epic from a fan energy standpoint.