Had an interesting conversation this week with Penguins star Sidney Crosby.
“Are you healthy?” I asked.
“Yep,” Crosby said.
“You wouldn’t tell me if you aren’t, would you?”
Are you thinking what I’m thinking? That there has to be a reason Crosby failed to score a goal in six games in the Penguins’ first-round playoff series against the Columbus Blue Jackets? If not injury, fatigue perhaps? Crosby played in 80 of 82 regular-season games, running away with the NHL scoring title with 36 goals, a league-best 68 assists and 104 points. He also played in six Olympic matches as captain of the Canadian team that won the gold medal. The six games against the Blue Jackets made it 92 Crosby has played in since October. He has to be at least a little bit tired, right?
“I feel fine,” Crosby said, quickly dismissing that theory.
Crosby sounded just a bit offended by the perception that he somehow had a bad series against the Blue Jackets because he didn’t score a goal. There are other ways to help the team, he said. He pointed out the Penguins won the Stanley Cup in 2009 by defeating the Detroit Red Wings in seven games in the final, a series in which he had just one goal.
“I don’t evaluate my game based on the goals I score,” Crosby said. “I thought it was better the last couple of games. I was able to create a little more. I look at scoring chances, not just for me but for the other guys. That’s the creating I’m talking about. It doesn’t matter to me who scores the goals.”
Crosby had the first assist on Evgeni Malkin’s power-play goal, which gave the Penguins an early 2-0 lead Monday night in Game 6. The team went on to eliminate the Blue Jackets with a 4-3 win. Crosby had six assists in the series, meaning he averaged a point a game. That’s tremendous work for most NHL players, but not for Crosby, who came into these playoffs averaging 1.28 postseason points, most among active players.
Not that Crosby’s teammates are complaining about his contributions. They pointed out his defensive work in Game 6, especially in the third period when he had to play nearly 9 minutes after injuries to centers Brandon Sutter and Joe Vitale. They also mentioned his faceoff work, especially in the defensive zone.
“I saw a lot of good things from him,” forward Craig Adams said.
There also were Crosby’s six points. Their value should not be overlooked.
“He’s an assist machine,” linemate Chris Kunitz said of Crosby. “He’s sharing the puck and putting it everywhere. He knows it’s a team game. He’s giving it up for other guys. I’m sure he’s not concerned about what’s on the score sheet.”
That’s mostly true, but not quite 100 percent true.
Crosby acknowledged he wants to score goals. “I work hard to try to produce. It’s not ideal when I don’t get goals.”
He also acknowledged the goals come much harder in the postseason. The Blue Jackets’ Brandon Dubinsky and Jack Johnson did a wonderful checking him the entire series.
“It’s tough because the playoffs are tight. But you can’t use that as an excuse. You still have to find a way to produce.”
We have to take Crosby’s word that he’s neither injured nor fatigued. But this we know for sure: There’s nothing wrong with his sense of humor. He thought he should have been given an assist Monday night on Malkin’s first goal, which gave the Penguins a 1-0 lead. He was strong fighting for the puck on the boards in the Columbus zone, eventually getting it to Kunitz, who got it to Malkin alone in front of Blue Jackets goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky.
“Geez, it’s hard enough getting points in the playoffs. They don’t have to take one away from me,” Crosby said, grinning.
It was easy for everyone to smile in the locker room after their clinching win. It also was easy for the players to predict many goals ahead for Crosby, who hasn’t scored in 11 postseason games, going back to Game 4 of the Ottawa series a year ago. They had made a similar prediction about Malkin, who ended a nine-game goal drought with his hat trick in Game 6 against the Blue Jackets.
“You know how bad he wanted to score,” Penguins winger James Neal said of Malkin. “He got that first one off his back and he took over the game. We need that from him. Sid’s going to have a breakout game, just the same.”
Clearly, Crosby was pleased by that thought.
“Hopefully, I’m saving ’em for the next round,” he said, not looking or sounding the least bit hurt or tired.
Ron Cook: firstname.lastname@example.org. Ron Cook can be heard on the “Cook and Poni” show weekdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on 93.7 The Fan.