Big games lacking for Crosby on home ice
Sidney Crosby is knocked to the ice by the Rangers' Fedor Tyutin in the second period Monday at Mellon Arena.
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Don't look for the Penguins to ask Sidney Crosby to kick back some of his salary anytime soon.
Odds are they won't actively solicit offers for him as the Feb. 26 trade deadline approaches, either.
But for all Crosby has done for his franchise -- "everything" would be a good place to start -- a surprising wrinkle has emerged on his personal stat sheet: He has not had more than two points in any of the Penguins' home games this season.
He'll try for the 24th time when Tampa Bay visits Mellon Arena tonight.
"Those big games are hard to come by this year, it seems," Crosby said yesterday. "I don't know why."
- Matchup: Tampa Bay Lightning at Penguins, 7:38 p.m. today, Mellon Arena.
- TV, radio: FSN Pittsburgh; WXDX-FM (105.9).
- Probable goaltenders: Ty Conklin for Penguins. Karri Ramo for Lightning.
- Penguins: Are 0-3-3 in past six home games against Tampa Bay. ... LW Evgeni Malkin has six-game points streak. ... Own 3-1 record on Fridays.
- Lightning: Has league-worst 5-14-3 mark on road. ... C Brad Richards has earned 21 of his 38 points (55.3 percent) on power plays. ... Is being outscored, 65-41, in third period.
- Hidden stat: Lightning has gotten at least one point from defensemen in 16 of past 17 games.
He hasn't exactly fizzled in front of the home crowd -- Crosby has rung up two points 12 times, one point nine times and none just twice -- but neither has he put together the kind of five- or six-point outburst of which he is capable. And which some co-workers suspect might be coming soon.
"He's getting really close to exploding with one of those games, three or four points," Penguins coach Michel Therrien said.
"Because he's getting chances, and I believe he's playing better than last year."
A case could be made that Crosby's performance during the Penguins' 4-1 victory Monday against the New York Rangers at Mellon Arena rivaled any he has turned in this season, even though he finished with just two points.
"That was one of the best games he's played all year, the jump he had in his legs," defenseman Brooks Orpik said.
Crosby's most productive night of the season came Oct. 30 in a 4-2 victory at Minnesota, when he had a goal and three assists. He also got three points in victories Dec. 5 in Edmonton and Dec. 20 in Boston.
Crosby's inability to get more than a couple of points at home hardly is a grievous failing on his part -- "What's wrong with two points?" right winger Colby Armstrong said -- and is more an anomaly than a cause for alarm.
After all, he has turned up on the scoresheet in 21 of 23 games at Mellon Arena, so no one can accuse him of being a no-show.
Overall, he has been shut out just seven times in 45 games, and in consecutive games only once.
"His consistency is the biggest thing," Orpik said. "He might not have a five- or six-point game, but he's always got a couple."
There is, it should be noted, precedent for Crosby to put up inflated numbers at Mellon Arena. Witness his one-goal, five-assist rampage Dec. 13, 2006, against Philadelphia, when he seized first place in the NHL scoring race and never was overtaken.
Coincidentally enough, another performance like that could catapult Crosby to his second Art Ross Trophy; he was tied with Lightning center Vincent Lecavalier and Atlanta winger Ilya Kovalchuk for first place in the NHL scoring race before last night's games.
The way Armstrong, who has been playing on a line with Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, sees it, the issue is not whether Crosby will accumulate a fistful of goals and assists at home, but when it will happen.
"I think he'll have a few breakout nights, where he'll have a ridiculous amount of points," Armstrong said. "Some nights, I'm sure he could have five points if I could put the puck in the net."
Because Crosby's forte is playmaking, not goal-scoring, his offensive output is inexorably linked to the work of the players around him.
He can put a pass on the tape of a guy perched in front of an empty net, but if that teammate somehow shoots high or wide, Crosby's pass counts for nothing.
And if his contract included a $5 bonus every time a player he set up rang a shot off the goalpost or crossbar or fired inches wide, Crosby's descendants for six generations would be financially secure.
"There have been a lot of times where I've had two points in the first period, then I've set up guys who hit the post or get chances that don't go in," he said.
Still, Crosby's mere presence has an impact on most games -- "Even when he's not scoring, he's creating so much and the other team's so worried about matchups that it throws off what they're trying to do," Orpik said -- and it seems inevitable that he'll pile up four or five or six points at home before much longer.
Which doesn't mean he'll spend any time or energy figuring out why it hasn't happened yet.
"You don't question the hockey gods sometimes," Crosby said, smiling. "That's just the way it is."
First Published January 18, 2008 12:00 am