When one of the greatest goal-scorers in NHL history – 22nd overall in goals-per-game average, ahead of Guy Lafleur – goes 18 playoff games with one goal scored, the weight of the criticism should make his knees buckle before burying him under the typical “not clutch enough!” tropes that humble star players.
Yet when the dust settles on the Pittsburgh Penguins’ demolition, how much of this will be on Sidney Crosby?
The captain finished with one goal and eight assists in 13 games. Six of those points came against the Columbus Blue Jackets, where he was harassed by Brandon Dubinsky and Jack Johnson for six games. Against Marc Staal’s sticks and gloves to his head for seven games, Crosby managed a goal in Game 3 and two assists in Game 4 and then nothing else for the series. He went out with a whimper: Three shot attempts in Game 7 following four shot attempts in Game 6.
He’s not LeBron James or Peyton Manning. He doesn’t play but a third of the total minutes in his game. This doesn’t mean star players are above reproach in the NHL. If Manning went 13 quarters with one touchdown pass, he’d catch hell even if he led the Broncos to eight other touchdowns. But it also doesn't mean this is all on Sid.
“Obviously, I would have liked to score more and contribute more, but it wasn’t from lack of effort,” he said.
No, it wasn’t, and hockey fans know it. At least ones that in 2014 understand the dynamics of hockey and what effective play looks like. Crosby’s possession numbers for the postseason were sick: 63.7 percent Corsi rating, with the Penguins generating 11.7 percent more shots than when Crosby wasn’t on the ice in one-goal games.
We’ve come to understand that it’s not always about the stats in the box score. Jonathan Toews, for example, doesn’t put up the numbers that Crosby does offensively, but does every other little thing right on a nightly basis. We know he’s elite whether he’s scoring nothing or a tallying a hat trick, because there are ways to quantify that beyond goal scoring.
That said, Toews has four game-winning goals this postseason.
He’s also surrounded by better talent than Crosby, which is why he’s eight wins away from a third Stanley Cup while Crosby hasn’t had a whiff of one since 2009.
This is what makes Crosby a Teflon captain in this postseason failure by the Penguins: The coaching and construction of this team far out-shadow Crosby’s lack of production when it comes to the blame game.
Who looked at this Penguins roster and thought it compared with what the Boston Bruins or Chicago Blackhawks had up front? Who saw the Penguins’ bottom six and didn’t come to the same conclusion that Tyler Dellow quantified: That they’re a complete liability and a drag on the top two lines’ effectiveness?
Dan Bylsma will likely pay for this loss with this job, and that’s not an unfair decision: His lack of adjustments and, as Rob Rossi notes, accountability have reached the point where change is a necessity if the Penguins are to break this string of playoff disappointments.
Within minutes of the Penguins’ loss, the “he lost the room” stuff was coming out. He’s cooked.
But as they say, a chef’s only as good as his recipe and ingredients. The first one’s on Bylsma. The second is on GM Ray Shero, and Crosby’s ineffective play brings that point home.
There's no intelligent reason the Penguins — the front office, the coaching staff and, yes, Crosby's teammates — should have allowed him to take a fraction of the abuse he did. It was disgraceful. It should have been embarrassing, though I'm not sure it was. There never was an answer for Columbus' Brandon Dubinsky. Nor the Rangers' Marc Staal. Those two and everyone else did as much damage as they pleased without ever having to look over their shoulders.
Blame Shero, mostly.
What happened to this GM's appreciation for tough, even dirty players, filling out his third and fourth lines? Were Marcel Goc and Lee Stempniak all that could be culled as deadline answers? Draft picks, anyone?
It's one thing to not acquire front-line forwards. They're expensive in cash and/or trade. But there's nothing easier or cheaper than a checking forward. And it's beyond reason that Shero gutted his roster of its guts and replaced it with a million and a half bucks worth of waiver-available Taylor Pyatt.
That can get a guy fired.
Competitive fire and character isn’t exclusive to top line players. Toews has grunts that play important, effective minutes. So does Patrice Bergeron. So does Anze Kopitar. But Shero never found another Max Talbot, another Tyler Kennedy and, yes, another Matt Cooke. The loss of Jordan Staal was, in hindsight, devastating to the team’s quality depth. He’s created a two-line, top heavy team that’s far too reliant on Crosby and Evgeni Malkin without providing them with offensive support and an answer to the abuse other teams dole out to them.
Maybe this all reads like an excuse for Crosby. Lord knows if Alex Ovechkin produced one goal in 13 games, the Canadian media would have his keister on the first plane to Dynamo.
Rather, I think Sid’s the canary in a coal mine. When the best player in the world goes 13 games with one goal, ends his series without a point in three games and is clearly rattled by his opponents’ physicality and pest behavior, there’s something wrong.
I don’t believe that glitch is with Sidney Crosby, who will collect another Hart Trophy this June, but rather with what he’s been surrounded by .
“I’d love to tear it up every series. But it doesn’t always happen,” said Crosby.
It’s on Penguins ownership to figure out why he didn’t, and act accordingly.