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A hockey prophet. The Babe Ruth of puck.
Yeah, not so much, said Crosby.
“I call 25 faceoffs a game. So I got 24 wrong tonight."
But he orchestrated the play. He instructed the players. He drew it up in his mind and saw it executed to perfection when Conor Sheary scored at 2:35 of the extra session to give the Penguins a 2-1 win and a 2-0 series lead over the San Jose Sharks.
“You have to execute. Guys have to make a pass, and that’s exactly what they did. Usually the center calls the play, but those guys deserve a lot more credit than me,” said Crosby.
Leading up to Game 2's definitive moment, you could see the gears turning in Crosby’s head.
It was a faceoff in the Sharks’ defensive zone. The Sharks had blocked 17 Pittsburgh Penguins’ shots on Wednesday night, pressuring their point men in the attacking zone.
“It’s overtime,” Crosby said. “You don’t want to have somebody have to make a play with a guy in his face. Especially the last guy back.”
So the Penguins captain decided to try something different.
“Hey," he called to Sheary, his rookie linemate, before shouting some instructions to him: Line up on the wall, something they hadn’t done before in the game on an offensive faceoff.
Sheary nodded in the affirmative.
Crosby then clued in defenseman Brian Dumoulin, and then defenseman Kris Letang, to whom Crosby said, “I’m going to win it to you and then you get it to Sheary.”
Worst case scenario, Crosby said to his teammates, would be that they just dump the puck in the corner. Best case? An offensive chance that catches the Sharks offguard.
Having relayed his plans, Crosby skated into the faceoff circle against Joel Ward of the Sharks, whom had beaten in their only previous faceoff battle of the night and twice in Game 1.
Here’s where things get a little petulant on the San Jose side. Logan Couture of the Sharks claims that Crosby cheats on the faceoffs he wins in the offensive zone. “He gets away with that. He’s Sidney Crosby,” said Couture. “He times them and yet they don’t kick him out for some reason; probably because of who he is.”
(Remember when Crosby was the whiner?)
Linesman Pierre Racicot stood between Ward and Crosby. He dropped the puck, and Crosby quickly snapped it back to Letang with his backhand. Letang waited at the top of the zone, baiting Couture, who skated out to defend the shot. That left Sheary with a cushion in the middle.
Letang found him. Sheary snapped a shot past goalie Martin Jones.
Game. Set. Match.
Just like Crosby planned it.
“We had done a lot of one-timers and quick shots from the point. I knew they’d be coming hard. Sheary was just trying to find the open area there, where he got the puck. Tanger made a great play, and obviously his shot was really good,” he said.
Sheary said the Sharks lost him when he came off the wall while Letang had the puck at the point. “I had a lot of time to shoot. It worked out,” he said.
Crosby humbly said that the success rate for this kind of play is rare throughout the season. “Oh, probably a handful of times. But that’s why you do them, and work out those details on faceoffs. You never know when you’re going to use them,” he said.
It’s only fitting that Sid The Kid and The Actual Kid connected on the game-winning goal: They both had to work through rookie greenness to excel as they did on this play.
Crosby was infamously terrible at faceoffs when he broke into the League.
“Any young player, you’re not strong as other guys. You go against veteran guys that know how to switch it up, know how to get help from their wingers,” he said.
So Crosby worked at it. Improved every season. Honed a style that’s a little unorthodox (and apparently in the eyes of opponents, a little illegal). He continues to work at it, taking faceoffs against Eric Fehr after an optional practice was over on the eve of Game 2 in Pittsburgh.
“He's not as good as he is by accident,” said Penguins coach Mike Sullivan. “He works extremely hard at it. He prides himself in the details of his game, like faceoffs. Because of that, I don't think it surprises any one of us that he's able to dominate in the faceoff circle.”
The player that eventually benefitted from that faceoff win had to overcome … well, playing with Sidney Crosby.
“I think when he first was called up this year, we put him with Sid right away, there was a 'wow' factor with some of the players in the room,” said Sullivan of Sheary. “My experience of being around this group is when a new player comes to our team, young or old for that matter, I think there's a little bit of a 'wow' factor because some of the players we have. Everybody has so much respect for Crosby and Malkin and Letang and those guys. Over time I think that wears off. I think that's happened with Conor.”
Crosby said he worked with Sheary on acting like a linemate, rather than a co-star.
“That’s normal for anybody. They get called up, they want to get the puck to their center. We’ve talked. Tried to get the way we know each other play. He’s got a great shot,” said Crosby.
Sheary said it was easier said than done.
“I mean, the first time I got on his line he told me I was there for a reason. Don’t look off a shot to make a pass to him,” said Sheary. “Even though he says that, it's a little hard to get used to.”
But as the director of the Penguins’ game-winning goal embraced his protégé, they were equals in victory. “At this point he's just my teammate and he's my linemate," said Sheary.
Crosby told Sheary everything that was going to happen on the play, and it did.
So did he tell him he was going to also win the game when it was over?
“That's the only thing he left out,” he said.
Well, obviously he didn't want to spoil the surprise.
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