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(Hello, this is a feature that will run through the entire season and aims to recap the weekend’s events and boils those events down to one admittedly superficial fact or stupid opinion about each team. Feel free to complain about it.)
It's strange to say that a player who has 37 points in 32 games this season is slumping, but you can very safely say that about someone whose talent is as singular as Sidney Crosby's.
Crosby has, of course, been in a slump for a while now, but things really came to a head in Pittsburgh on Saturday night because, a) the Penguins were shut out 3-0 by Washington and, b) he has just 11 goals in his last 50 games (including playoffs). Suffice it to say that this is the worst fallow stretch of Crosby's career — and in fact, 37 in 32 constitutes his worst points-per-game pace of any season in his career — and things have only worsened of late. He has only one goal and four points in his nine December games.
This is obviously bringing the city of Pittsburgh to crisis-level hysteria because if Sidney Crosby isn't leading the league in scoring when he's healthy — and we have every indication that he is, apart from that mumps scare a few weeks ago — and the fact of the matter is that Crosby just doesn't feel dominant any more. If this were anyone else having this kind of dropoff in production (about 11 percent in points, and 31 percent in goals) for a team's biggest star, trade talks would inevitably start swirling.
This is like if Steven Stamkos went from 50 goals to 34. Or if Ryan Getzlaf's points slipped from 90 to 80. They're still very good players, who unquestionably contribute a lot to their teams, but they're not as good as they should be. Crosby is going through the same things, but given how large his goal and points totals tend to be, the drop-offs in both regards are stark
What I think is pretty clear, though, is that people don't understand why this is happening.
For one thing, it's important to note that there has been virtually no change in his assist rate. That is to say, his teammates are scoring on his passes more or less at the same pace as last year (0.85 in 2013-14 to 0.84 so far this year). Both are below his career average of 0.9 per game but not appreciably so. Likewise, his on-ice shooting efficiency is down to 8.9 percent from the previous year's 9.8 percent, a decline which comes more or less as a result of his own problems and not actually anything his teammates are or are not doing.
Which means that this is a Crosby problem, rare though such a thing may be in this world. So what's going wrong for him, specifically?
Well, he's just as dominant as ever in terms of driving possession. Straight across the board he's destroying the competition just like always: 53.6 percent corsi, up from last year when he was the MVP. And 53.2 percent fenwick, down very slightly. And 63.9 percent goals-for, up massively from the 57.5 percent seen a year ago. The latter number can be attributed to the change for Marc-Andre Fleury from a little below replacement level to world-beating netminder, though, because his individual goals-for per 60 minutes (2.9) is at the lowest point by far seen in his entire career, and certainly on average (3.8).
So what's the issue? He's personally not putting the puck on net enough, and he's been very unlucky. That's about it.
Crosby has attempted just 150 shots in all situations this season, or 14.5 per 60 minutes of ice time. Last year, he attempted 420, or 14.3 per minute. Now, that's obviously an improvement, but he got very lucky last year, with a smaller percentage of his shot attempts getting on net (258/61.4 percent, versus this year's 98/65.3 percent) but a far larger percentage actually going in: 14 percent to just 10.2 percent. The problem is that both of these numbers are way, way down from his average from 2007-08 — the start of advanced-stats tracking in the NHL — to the lockout-shortened 2013 season of 15.9 shot attempts per 60.
If Crosby's shooting this year were as accurate as last season, he'd have 14 goals and not 10, and his goals per game would be down just a single hundredth of a point from last season. And we probably wouldn't be having this conversation at all. It's funny to say it, but Crosby's “big slump” is because he has four fewer goals in 32 games than he should.
To what can we attribute that? Well, the eye test says he's not around the net as much, and that's backed up by War On Ice's Hextally tool (for last year, and this year) but he's also taking fewer low-probability shots, so this isn't necessarily an issue of him struggling to actually make higher-percentage attempts, rather than just them going in.
But now we have to talk, in specific, about that 50-game stretch of just 11 goals (see also: total, utter, complete futility). It started, funnily enough, on April Fool's Day. This is what's making everyone so crazy and mad!!!
So here it is: Crosby's shot attempts per 60 in all situations? It's 15.3, higher than his averages for both this year and last, and not so far off from his career number. The percentage of those getting on net? It's 56.5, the lowest by far of either this year or last, or indeed his entire career. And his personal shooting percentage? It's just 7.5 percent, compared to his average of 14.5 percent. That's a decline of 48 percent.
So yeah, shocking though this may be to hear, the fact that Sid Crosby has scored just 11 goals in his last 50 games comes down to — wait for the drumroll here — bad luck!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
You never ever could have guessed that, could you?
What We Learned
Anaheim Ducks: This is how the Ducks lost a shootout to Arizona. Woof.
Arizona Coyotes: And here's Dave Tippett on that goofy bounce: “I have never seen that before. I’ve seen a lot of things in this game for a long time and I’ve never seen that one before.” Oh well the Coyotes are on two wins in a row for the first time since Nov. 16.
Boston Bruins: No, don't blame Peter Chiarelli for how bad the Bruins have been even though he put together this team and systematically traded away a ton of good players and also has drafted as badly as anyone since he took over. Blame the loss of Shawn Thornton or something. Leadership is the problem.
Buffalo Sabres: Jhonas Enroth has faced 21 shots in the shootout this season and stopped 20 of them so that's pretty good.
Calgary Flames: This is Johnny Gaudreau scoring twice in 16 seconds (albeit the most Oilers-y of goals to allow). He has five goals in his last two games.
Carolina Hurricanes: Jordan Staal will finally get into his first game of the season on Monday. So awful to miss this much of the year.
Chicago Blackhawks: When you have to go through and be like, “Yeah, the team just wasn't good on its first two power plays but then the next two were good and they scored,” you've officially run out of things to complain about. The Blackhawks are a juggernaut.
Colorado Avalanche: Calvin Pickard (.934) is back to the minors because the Avs have to stick with their healthy rotation of Semyon Varlamov (.913) and Reto Berra (.882). Haha.
Columbus Blue Jackets: As if everything else going on with this team weren't enough this year, here's a gruesome article about all the times Blue Jackets players have lost teeth.
Dallas Stars: Saturday's win against St. Louis was the first time all year Dallas beat a Conference III opponent. In 11 tries.
Detroit Red Wings: Often not-discussed when mentioning the Red Wings this year is the fact that Jimmy Howard has been excellent more or less throughout.
Edmonton Oilers: Hmm. Nine losses in a row. I'm pretty sure we've heard this one before.
Florida Panthers: The Panthers entered the holiday break 4-1-1 in their previous six games, and 5-0-1 in the last six at home. These are still strange numbers to type.
Los Angeles Kings: Speaking of streaks, the Kings took seven of eight points from their just=concluded four-game homestand, outscoring opponents 16-11. Maybe you wanna trim the goals-against but that might just be me.
Minnesota Wild: The Wild aren't very good and there sure are a lot of reasons for it.
Montreal Canadiens: Congratulations to the Canadiens, who are still beating the Bruins every night or something like that I think.
Nashville Predators, America's Favorite Hockey Team: Derek Roy on waivers and Viktor Stalberg sent down to the AHL, huh? Regrettable signings by David Poile, but it doesn't really matter.
New Jersey Devils: What an idiotic mess.
New York Islanders: Jaroslav Halak is off the IR. He missed two games, the Isles lost both of them, and Kevin Poulin and Chad Johnson allowed a combined six goals on 47 shots. Which is bad.
New York Rangers: The Rangers are on eight in a row here. Longest streak since the mid-'70s. Part of it might be because Henrik Lundqvist has a .922 save percentage in December.
Ottawa Senators: Well guys, giving up hope, at this point, seems wise.
Philadelphia Flyers: Can't believe a team with a defense and goaltending this bad are also awful on the PK. Shocking, shocking development.
Pittsburgh Penguins: Patric Hornqvist could be out a while. That would be bad news.
San Jose Sharks: Matt Nieto has great corsi numbers but claims he doesn't know what they mean. Wiiiiiiiink.
St. Louis Blues: The Blues have lost four straight games. They really ought to start Marty more.
Tampa Bay Lightning: Turns out the Bolts are better when they have their No. 1 goalie in the lineup (and also get to play Carolina).
Toronto Maple Leafs: Leo Komarov is working his way back into the lineup but it's a concussion so who knows.
Vancouver Canucks: This is a team that's neither that good nor that bad so who cares.
Washington Capitals: It's not even January, gang.
Winnipeg Jets: Another streak: The Jets haven't lost in regulation in eight straight.
Play of the Weekend
Gustav Nyquist had the puck on his stick in the offensive zone for 28 damn seconds on this game-winner.
Gold Star Award
Congratulations to Milan Lucic, who skated 75 feet away from the puck to jump Dalton Prout. Sure, Lucic has one goal in December and the Bruins are garbage but he got a kind of comeuppance and a bit of trash talk after the fact. So he's once again the toughest guy in the league who everyone takes super-serious.
Minus of the Weekend
Trickle-down economics always works.
Perfect HFBoards Trade Proposal of the Week
User “Teravainen” might have a favorite team.
Taylor Hall at 30 percent retained
This seems very even to me.
I may regret saying this, but how dare you usurp my authority as director-slash-choreographer of the talent show?