Hitting panic button tempting, but wrong call
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The Penguins tried for more than a year to get center Sidney Crosby to take on the role of team captain, but he did not think he was ready. He finally accepted the offer at the end of May, more than two months shy of his 20th birthday.
It was not until the past week or two that his role as the NHL's youngest captain began to be defined. That's what happens when a team has lost four games in a row and six of its past seven.
So what has Crosby done differently to help right the ship during the Penguins' first bad slide under his captaincy?
Which is what the team expected and wants.
"He's not a real vocal guy. He leads by example," defenseman Brooks Orpik said after the latest setback, a 3-2 loss Monday to the New Jersey Devils that left the Penguins in last place in the Atlantic Division at 7-10-1 nearly a quarter of the way through the season.
"You know what you're going to get from him every shift. I think if he stood up and started speaking more than usual, that's maybe a sign of panic. It's not him."
This is Crosby: going full throttle, winning faceoffs, drawing penalties, quarterbacking the power play, logging more ice time than any other forward and all but two defensemen on the team. And, oh yeah, collecting five goals, 10 points over that seven-game stretch.
"All I can do is lead with my play," Crosby said. "I'm not a talker. It's good when some guys talk it out, but, at the same time, your actions speak louder, so that's what I try to do."
That doesn't represent a "C" change.
"He's no different than he was his first two years," Orpik said.
As in those first two seasons, most nights Crosby is the best player on the ice for numerous reasons.
Monday, he buckled down after the team fell behind, 2-0, through one period.
He scored in the first minute of the second period. After losing 4 of 6 faceoffs in the first period, he went 5-0 in the second period and 10-2 in the third to finish at a 74 percent winning clip. He registered a team-high six shots.
"I think if you look at every game, it's a consistent effort from start to finish, just the desire, and all the little things," Orpik said.
The big things -- goals and assists -- count, too, and Crosby has a career-best 17-game point streak.
Quietly, Crosby moved into a tie for the NHL scoring lead with a goal and an assist in the loss to the Devils. He and Detroit's Henrik Zetterberg each had 27 points before the Red Wings' game last night at St. Louis.
That's not surprising, considering Crosby won the league scoring title last season, his second in the NHL, with 120 points and was named MVP.
The Penguins, who had the day off yesterday and play at home tomorrow against the New York Islanders, don't necessarily want any surprises from Crosby.
"The important thing for him is to keep his focus on what he does best, and that's to play hockey," said winger and alternate captain Mark Recchi. "We need him to be our best player, and he is. He's been great. His work effort is tremendous."
Crosby and leadership have been on a first-name basis for years. At the NHL level, he was an alternate captain from midway through his rookie season until he took the promotion.
Recchi has noticed that while Crosby's leadership style is more inspiration and perspiration than rear-kicking, there occasionally are some behind-the-scenes maneuvers.
"He talks to guys," Recchi said. "He competes, and, if he sees guys not competing, he's not afraid to say something."
Mostly, Crosby said, he leaves that role to Recchi and the handful of other veterans over 30.
"If there was a time I feel like I need to say it, I will, but I think we're all clear on what we have to do, and there are a lot of guys who have played a lot of years and know what it's like to go through a few games like this," Crosby said.
"I need to just keep working, lead by example, keep a good work ethic, keep a good frame of mind. Hanging your head and feeling sorry for yourself does absolutely nothing when things are tough. If you want to look at it the right way, the best test for us right now is this. This is what's going to make us better. We talk about the chemistry we have. These are the times a team shows its true colors."
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First Published November 14, 2007 12:00 am