Grove: Crosby Is The Glue That Kept The Penguins Together This Season

Without Crosby, the Pens would be watching the NHL’s longest current streak of consecutive playoff appearances come to an end.

Bob Grove
March 29, 2019 - 10:40 am

© Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

Related: Penguins Getting ‘Second Wind’ as Playoffs Approach

PITTSBURGH (93.7 The Fan) - Sidney Crosby’s teammates voted him winner of the Players’ Player Award Thursday, an honor he earned last season for the first time. It was even more fitting this time around, since his fingerprints are all over the Penguins’ success.

When various parts of the team’s plans for 2018-19 failed to fit, Crosby was the glue that kept the Penguins together. Five players who were in the opening night lineup were gone by the trade deadline; 10 players who had never before skated for the team were worked into the lineup as the season wore on and GM Jim Rutherford made seven trades involving NHL players in just over three months.

Two regulars on defense, Justin Schultz and Olli Maatta, missed significant time while Kris Letang found himself in and out of the lineup over the final six weeks. Evgeni Malkin had his least productive season ever as a goal scorer; Phil Kessel’s scoring touch largely deserted him in the second half of the season.

At 31, Crosby responded by bidding for his first 100-point season in six years – he needs six points over the final five games. He and Jake Guentzel cemented a partnership which enabled their line, regardless of who played the right side, to carry the burden of producing most of the team’s even-strength goals. He established himself as a legitimate Hart Trophy candidate as the Penguins went from a playoff bubble team in February to taking a run at the Metropolitan Division’s top spot in March.

Perhaps for the first time in his career, Crosby also deserves Selke Trophy consideration for influencing games in ways that didn’t involve accumulating points. After his plus-minus fell to even last season, his second-worst mark ever, he is +19 going into tonight’s game here against Nashville – and could challenge to match his best mark of +26. Let’s remember he’s often playing against opponents’ top lines.

Crosby’s having his best season in the faceoff circle in eight years and is often called upon to take critical defensive zone draws. He’s been given modest, but more, ice time as a penalty killer and he’s cleaned up his own end with regularity from October to March. He’s played the whole rink throughout his career, but arguably never as effectively as this season.

Crosby has set the tone for his team in so many instances this season, racking up the first goal of the game 10 times – only Chicago’s Alex DeBrincat has done it more often. He’s helped finish games, too, figuring in on three of the Penguins’ five OT goals and delivering a critical shootout-winning goal last week in Nashville.

Guentzel, Letang and Matt Murray have also played critical roles for the Penguins this season, but it’s not hard to imagine where they’d be without Crosby’s leadership. They’d be watching the NHL’s longest current streak of consecutive playoff appearances come to an end.

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