For a lack of kinder words, Sidney Crosby had an abysmal road trip performance, especially in the game against the Colorado Avalanche. He looked sluggish, unsure of himself, and, at times, careless with the puck. Something’s wrong with Crosby this season, and if it’s fatigue from playoff runs in the past, it’s seeming to, due to the giant microscope he’s under at all times, affect his play the most.
Consider this: the Penguins dropped four of their last five games, as well as five of their past seven. This puts them at sixth in the tough Metro division, and two points out of a playoff slot. The Penguins are second-worst in the league with 10 regulation road losses — beat out only by Arizona. Once the NHL’s fastest team is looking like it’s stuck in tar against less-talented opponents. And perhaps the most staggering, Pittsburgh owns a division-worst minus-11 goal differential.
Things could be a lot worse, but according to Mike Sullivan, things are definitely not great right now, and the entire organization, namely the big boss Jim Rutherford, knows it. Sullivan even went as far as to be on record saying that not all of Pittsburgh’s problems are fixable. The Penguins look uncharacteristically slow and are getting outplayed by just about every team they face. It’s unsettling.
But what’s going on with the captain lately?
Crosby didn’t register one shot-on-goal or shot attempt against the Avs (one of his shots may or may not have been blocked, but still). He got completely outplayed by star Colorado forward Nathan MacKinnon, who had another solid game. Three of the team’s six giveaways were off the stick of Sid. He’s been forcing passes that aren’t there rather than just taking the shot. And ultimately, his overall game just seems to be missing something major. We’re not seeing that typical spark and assertion Crosby plays with. He’s not challenging guys one-on-one like he normally does. It’s...odd.
“Confidence is part of it,” said Crosby. “I think you make your own confidence with the way you play. As far as passion and urgency, I think that comes when everybody’s breeding that. It’s a contagious thing, so if we can get everybody going here together, I think we’ll get some consistency.”
All superstars have their peaks and valleys, and even the best-of-the-best struggle sometimes, but how long can we expect to see Sid looking downtrodden? My guess is it’ll end soon, but until he finally gets his rhythm back, his teammates seriously need to step up.
Phil Kessel has hoisted this team over his shoulders and carried them offensively all season and hasn’t shown signs of slowing down. That’s one positive. Another is, as it usually goes, Evgeni Malkin playing lights out whenever Crosby is slacking. 71 was easily the best player on the ice against the Avalanche.
Apart from the team’s other offensive stars, guys like Jake Guentzel, who’s had a pretty great season, and Conor Sheary, who’s been awfully quiet, need to carry the load as well. I’ll list Patric Hornqvist too, but he’s nursing an upper-body injury right now.
There also needs to be more consistent scoring form the bottom-six, but lately, they’ve have bright spots and managed to pot some much-needed points. Pittsburgh is far too talented to only be averaging 2.8 goals a game. In this year’s Metro, that just isn’t going to cut it, and points are mattering more and more as each game passes. Puck luck has been super scarce, and even Malkin lamented that the Penguins “can’t score anymore,” but getting out-shot like they did in the second period versus Colorado won’t get them there either.
This team desperately needs a kick in the ass. Hopefully they kick-start something against Columbus, one of their division rivals, tomorrow night. The Blue Jackets have a tendency to fire Pittsburgh up.