Say a first line center has 0 goals and 5 assists through the first five games of the 2014 Stanley Cup playoffs. This might be decent, except if the team is the Pittsburgh Penguins and the player is scoring champion and presumptive MVP Sidney Crosby. Much is always expected of Crosby, and after not scoring in the Boston series in 2013, the total number of games played without a goal are adding up quickly and many will point that out frequently.
Twice in the past week media members have asked about Crosby's health: first coach Dan Bylsma and then Crosby himself. Both times they've been told point-blank that he's healthy- but what else would you expect this time of year?
Either way, it says enough that if Crosby- who by the way has 18 shots in the five games must be hurt if he hasn't scored. He's made some uncharacteristic bad passes, made poor reads, had bunches of turnovers and to some hasn't showed his typical explosive acceleration. Even if he's physically hurt, his mental decisions haven't been as sharp recently.
So is the root of this sloppy play due to an injury, or could it be that Crosby is human and perhaps battling fatigue, a tough opponent or some other combination of factors that's kept him off the scoreboard?
Whole lotta games
Courtesy of a recent welcome and well-deserved turn of good health, Sidney Crosby has played a lot of hockey this season. Let's look at his number of total games played in recent years.
Before this year, in the past three seasons (2010-11 to 2013) Crosby only played a combined 119 hockey games due to his various injuries and the NHL lockout in 2012. If you extrapolate a little more, since the beginning of the calender year 2011, Crosby has only appeared in 80 games prior to this season.
But this year, on the other hand, he's up to 91 games (and counting). It doesn't take a genius to figure out that's a ton of action in the past eight months, compared with not that much in the last couple of years.
Is that having an effect, is Sid hitting a wall? That might explain why his legs don't appear to be as explosive and why he's not driving to the net as relentlessly as we might expect him to. This could also be a reason- though not an excuse- for some of the poor decisions that Crosby has been making with the puck on his stick lately.
And big minutes
Not only has Sidney Crosby played a lot of games, but he's also played a ton of minutes. Crosby spent a total of 1,757:47 minutes on the ice during the regular season, the most among NHL forwards. At even strength he played 1,374:25, the second most in the league behind Toronto's Phil Kessel, who only averaged 20 seconds more per game than Sid.
Crosby took 1,887 faceoffs in the 2013-14 season, which was almost 100 more than second place and hundreds more than most other top centers around the league. All that concentration, strength and punishment of slashing sticks can also ever-so-slowly add up over each and every game. Especially as the games get more and more important.
At 26 years old, Crosby's in great athletic shape, but his usage has been heavier than any other center in the league. It all adds up to be a vicious amount of work, and it's always coming against the other team's top defensive players and top center, because no coach is going to let Sidney Crosby see the ice against less than his best answer.
Which leads us to the next point. You also have to credit the opponent. Sergei Bobrovsky has made a ton of saves this series and uber-pest Brandon Dubinsky has literally shadowed Crosby up and down the ice as NBC illustrated during an intermission of Game 5. The game tightens up during the playoffs and coaches and players buckle down and attempt to take away time and space from the opposition.
Scoring generally goes down as the games tighten in the playoffs and ice is at a premium. Add that to all the games Crosby's played and his heavy workload and suddenly at our 30,000 feet view, it's not terribly shocking that Crosby hasn't scored a goal in the first five games of the series.
Will it change?
Still, you'd expect Sidney Crosby to be a productive player. Encouragingly, his underlying numbers are there to support that. The 18 shots on goal in 5 games is above his regular season average. Crosby has a 60.1% Corsi For % in the playoffs, tops among Penguins and one of the best in the league.
Results wise, perhaps unluckily it hasn't been as pretty of a picture. Crosby's been on the ice for 3 Goals For and 3 Goals Against at 5v5 play, and only 7 GF and 6 GA in all situations. This is less than you'd expect and off Crosby's normal numbers, where he ought to be on the ice for more goals for.
A big reason for that is that the Penguins only have a 8.9% shooting percentage in the 2014 playoffs while Crosby's on the ice. That number would be OK for an average player, but it lower than expected for the best player in the game who routinely has a high shooting percentage, because he's a good shooter and better passer that sets up teammates for scoring chances
The Pens scored on 11.9% of their shots during the regular season with Crosby on the ice and last regular season it was 14.1%. Again, you have to give credit to Dubinsky, Bobrovsky and the rest of the Blue Jackets defending Crosby and his line, but if the sample size was expanded, chances are the Pens are going to get that 8.9% up more towards the usual average, which obviously bodes well for #87.
There's no actual evidence that Crosby is injured, but given all the hockey he's played on two different continents this year, it's understandable that he's probably growing fatigued. The NHL playoffs are a grind and even the players at close to full health are still going to wear down. This would lead him to not be as explosive skating-wise as an observer might expect compared to a usual level of play.
But despite not scoring a goal, it's important to remember that Crosby is producing at a point-per-game rate. He has very impressive possession based stats so far and he is doing a great job helping the Pens generate shots. Bobrovsky has been equal to the task on Sid's shots, but as long as they continue to shoot the puck, sooner or later he (or his linemates) will fill the net and we can all move on to another problem..
...Like why isn't Evgeni Malkin scoring?