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Crosby’s faceoff struggles raise question of wrist durability

For the past decade, Crosby has been one of the best faceoff men in the NHL. This season? So far, not so much.

Pittsburgh Penguins v Toronto Maple Leafs
Sidney Crosby faces off against Toronto’s Auston Matthews on Nov. 20, 2021.
Photo by Mark Blinch/NHLI via Getty Images

Here’s a scenario: gun to your head, do-or-die, choose any NHL player to win you one faceoff. Who would you pick?

For the past decade, you would have had to at least consider Sidney Crosby. He’s completed 13 of the past 14 seasons (dating all the way back to 2007-08) with a winning percentage on the draw, and as of Dec. 3, 2021, he ranks first among all active players with 2,047 career faceoff wins.

But this season, Crosby has been less than reliable on the dot. That became obvious during the Penguins’ back-to-back contests on Nov. 26 and Nov. 27, when Crosby went 4-for-10 against the host Islanders. The next day, the captain opened the Penguins’ contest against the visiting Canadiens by going 1-for-7 in the first period.

Crosby’s faceoff percentage (through Dec. 3, 2021)

Date Opponent FOW FOL FO%
Date Opponent FOW FOL FO%
11/14/21 @ WSH 5 7 41.7
11/16/21 BUF 6 9 40
11/18/21 @ MTL 11 7 61.1
11/20/21 @ TOR 4 8 33.3
11/22/21 @ WPG 8 11 42.1
11/24/21 VAN 6 11 35.3
11/26/21 @ NYI 4 10 28.6
11/27/21 MTL 12 15 44.4
11/29/21 @ CGY 13 13 50
12/1/21 @ EDM 11 6 64.7

In 10 games since his Nov. 14 return, Crosby recorded just two winning faceoff percentages and is averaging a 44.1% success rate on the dot, which is four percent worse than his career-low rate (48.2%, 2016-17).

That’s a significant issue for the Penguins, who normally turn to Crosby for a significant portion of their faceoffs, especially on significant drops at turning points in games. He’s generally so reliable that some of the team’s best set plays come from the offensive-zone dot, like the setup that resulted in Guentzel’s tying goal against the host Oilers in the first period on Dec. 1.

Jeff Carter (56.3%) has by far been the Penguins’ most reliable man on the dot so far this campaign. Still, we’re talking about a partial season. A 10-game sample is normally nothing to worry about, as things usually balance out.

But on September 8, 2021, Crosby received surgery for a wrist injury he had been playing through since a collision with Ryan Reaves in March 2014— making it notable that he is struggling to win faceoffs a month into his return.

Does this poor winning percentage reflect larger issues with his wrist? It’s certainly something to keep an eye on as the Penguins fight to keep themselves in the playoff conversation.