Quick with an assist: Crosby has been at playmaking best since return
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Sidney Crosby is rolling up the points. Nine in four games during his recent comeback, 21 in 12 games for the Penguins in his injury-interrupted season.
"Right now, he's playing a great passing game," right winger and current linemate Tyler Kennedy said Wednesday after practice at Southpointe.
It's the goals that are missing.
Crosby had two goals, two assists Nov. 21 against the New York Islanders in a glorious comeback from a 101/2-month absence because of a concussion and neck problems. He had another eight assists, but no goals, over the next seven games before he again was forced out of the lineup because of recurring symptoms.
- Matchup: Penguins vs. Nashville Predators, 7:08 p.m. today, Consol Energy Center.
- TV, Radio: Root Sports, WXDX-FM (105.9).
- Probable goaltenders: Marc-Andre Fleury for Penguins. Pekka Rinne for Predators.
- Penguins: Are 12-0-1 in past 13 games. ... Evgeni Malkin leads NHL in points (93) and shots (300). ... Sidney Crosby has three goals, 10 points in five career games vs. Nashville.
- Predators: Are 9-4-1 in past 14 games. ... Have scored six power-play goals over past six games. ... Martin Erat has five-game points streak (two goals, six assists).
- Hidden stat: The Penguins have given up a power-play goal in each of the past two games after going nine games (23 of 23) without giving up one.
If you bridge the gap to include his second layoff, which ended March 15, he has a goal drought of 11games, the longest of his career.
Crosby has 217 goals, 376 assists in 424 NHL games. Perhaps No. 218 will come tonight when Nashville visits Consol Energy Center. Even if it doesn't, no one is panicking.
Asked if there was any concern over Crosby's lack of goals, coach Dan Bylsma looked straight ahead and said, "None."
"They're going to come," Kennedy said. "Everyone knows Sid can score. It's just a matter of time before he starts popping them in."
Crosby, 24, was an extraordinary playmaker in the NHL from the start. When he led the NHL with 120 points in his second season in 2006-07, he had more than twice as many assists (84) as goals (36). In his most recent full season, '09-10, his totals were nearly equal -- 51 goals, 58 assists, 109 points -- and he earned a share of the Rocket Richard Trophy as the league's top goal-scorer.
Although he has looked strong in the past four games -- topping off the stretch with four assists Tuesday in an 8-4 win against Winnipeg -- the imbalance between assists and goals could very well just be a bit of rust considering he missed the final 41 games plus the playoffs last season, the first 20 games this season and another 40 after his aborted comeback.
"I can't really change anything," Crosby said. "I'm not going to go to different spots. I think you have to trust your instincts when it comes to scoring goals.
"I think in my case a lot of it is timing and reacting and being at the right spot at the right time. I think I've been in those spots at different points and the puck's either bounced over my stick or I haven't put it in or for whatever reason it hasn't gone in. But I still feel like I'm creating things out there, and I think as a line we are."
Crosby has been flanked by Kennedy and left winger Matt Cooke most of the time the past four games, a line that hadn't been used in the past.
Bylsma won't say whether he plans to keep that trio together as the playoffs approach -- "I'm not committing to any line for any length or period of time," he said slyly, but he did note that "Sid's been pretty spectacular at finding the open guy."
Kennedy has two goals, Cooke four in those past four games. Crosby's playmaking skills have worked well to help set up scoring chances for Kennedy, whose strengths are skating and shooting, and Cooke, who has a penchant for patrolling the front of the net.
That doesn't mean Crosby is left out of scoring opportunities on that line.
"He's had some chances," Cooke said. "We try and get him the puck as much as we can. We want him to have the puck. He creates so much out there, and not just offensively, but taking space and bringing two guys to him.
"We're just trying to work with him and be options for him."
Cooke is among those unconcerned over Crosby's lack of goals.
"I think if you asked him if he'd rather have four assists or one goal, he'd say four assists," he said.
Crosby confirmed Cooke's contention, but added a caveat.
"It's fun [for the team] to score no matter who it is, but you always want to bury your chances," he said. "I'm not any different."
Against the Jets, Crosby set up Kennedy's two goals and one by Evgeni Malkin, and had a second assist on a James Neal power-play goal.
Crosby is playing a different spot on the power play, one of the points, and is the primary player carrying the puck up ice. He has gotten off a few big blasts from the center point, but he also rotates to other spots as the five players generate a lot of movement and crisp passing.
He doesn't consider his new role on the power play to be more of a playmaker and less of a scorer.
"I think I can do both," Crosby said.
"I think when we're moving and everyone is kind of creating things that way, it's a lot tougher on teams. Whether that means I'm distributing the puck up higher or if I end up low and have to react and jump on a puck, I can do that, too."
First Published March 22, 2012 12:00 am