PITTSBURGH, PA - NOVEMBER 21: Sidney Crosby #87 of the Pittsburgh Penguins carries the puck before scoring his first goal of the season against the New York Islanders during the game on November 21, 2011 at CONSOL Energy Center in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Crosby has not played a game since January 5th after sustaining a concussion. (Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)
Interesting Note: It’s more sad than interesting, but the 2 goals Crosby scored versus the Islanders in his return game in November (more below) would be his only goals scored from December 28, 2010 until March 24, 2012.
Interesting Note II: The Pens were 14-6-2 with Crosby in the lineup and averaged 4.27 goals per game. Without Crosby, Pittsburgh had a similar record (37-19-4) but only scored 3.13 goals/game.
The Good: Crosby was able to play in the team’s final 21 games of the season from March 15- April 21. Had the highest assists/game ratio in his long career (was on pace for 108 helpers had he played the full season) and his production was right back without showing signs of rust from most the 14+ months he missed due to recovering from concussion symptoms. Crosby’s Corsi rating was off the charts, and his Goals/60 (at 5 on 5) was an astonishing 6.31 – miles above second and third place in the league (which, coincidentally were teammates Kris Letang [4.14] and Evgeni Malkin [4.12]).
The Bad: Will have to worry about seemingly any and every bump from any game could trigger a setback. His goal numbers from previous years went down, as even Crosby himself admitted his hands and shot weren’t quite as in tune as he would like (not hard to excuse given the amount of time he was out, plus his playmaking results).
Moment to Remember: Against the New York Islanders on November 21, 2011, perhaps the best moment of the regular season, Crosby returned after missing 11 months of game activity. And like Crosby’s career having storybook elements (shootout goal in the falling snow in Buffalo, the OT Olympic golden goal) this night would be no different. The Islanders served up 21-year old goalie Anders Nilsson to make his NHL debut, but did it really matter who the goalie would be? 5:24 into the first period, Crosby exploded into the offensive zone, puck on his stick and roofed one of the sickest backhand shots you’ll ever see. Capped with an expletive laden, totally worth it celebration, Crosby announced he was back. It was like we all saw the burden and uneasiness of the previous 11 months and 20 days lifted off his shoulders all at once. Oh yeah, and he’d score another goal and add two assists in the Pens runaway 5-0 win.
Moment to Forget: December 5, 2011, vs the Boston Bruins. Seven games into the glorious comeback, Crosby had scored 12 points (2g, 10a) and helped the Pens to a 5-1-1 record. All was seemingly on track until this Boston game. It started out rough when Crosby and Chris Kunitz collided at open ice. It was more of a knee-on-knee hit than any head contact, but Crosby seemed out of sorts from that point on. Later Sid would go in for a hit on Boston’s David Krejci, who raised his arm to protect himself. It looked like a routine hit on a routine play that will happen so many times in hockey. Except, this time, it sent those dreaded concussion symptoms back into Crosby’s life and would remove him from the lineup for three more months.
Discussion: Health will always be a lingering question and concern, but there’s not much to debate or discuss there. So how about linemates? Steve Sullivan played well with Crosby, but he’s a UFA-to-be and advanced in age. If the cap is up to the reported $70 million, should the Pens make a play for a Crosby linemate (like perhaps Shane Doan) to go along with Pascal Dupuis?