Personal failing for Sidney Crosby but Penguins superstar still dazzles all

In a changing game, the Pittsburgh centre overcomes the mumps and still finds a way to lead league in scoring.

Pittsburgh Penguins’ Sidney Crosby is on pace to score 86 points, which would be 18 fewer than the 104 points he scored last year to lead the league. Jared Silber / Getty Images
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Poor Sidney Crosby.

The Pittsburgh Penguins superstar is scoring points at the lowest rate of his career. He has played much of the season with a revolving set of line mates. Injuries to the team’s other star, Evgeni Malkin, have allowed defences to focus more on the 28-year-old centre.

Pittsburgh’s first-year coach, Mike Johnston, has insisted the skate-and-shoot Pens concentrate more on defence, including Crosby, leaving general manager Jim Rutherford to answer the media’s “what’s wrong with Sid?” questions.

“He’s adjusted his game,” Rutherford told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “He’s really done a terrific job coming back into our own end.”

That’s great, but the net sure gets tiny from 80 feet away.

It has been a season of depressed numbers for Sid the Kid, who also happens to have been one of the NHL’s mumps patients early in the season. Crosby’s numbers are so depressed that, hmmm, he seems to be closing in on his third NHL scoring title?

Through Monday’s games, Crosby was at 79 points, leading John Tavares of the New York Islanders by two points, Jakub Voracek of the Philadelphia Flyers by three and Alex Ovechkin of the Washington Capitals by four.

The truth is, overall league scoring numbers don’t look so great. Some of the factors in Crosby’s scoring decline have affected everyone.

Goalie play is terrific all over the league, and if pad size has been legislated a bit smaller in recent years, the bodies seem to be expanding.

It isn’t just Johnston who wants his team playing two-way hockey. Back-checking forwards are “in”, and plodding defenders are “out”. Getting around fast, skilled blue-liners is difficult. “Enforcers” are getting scarcer, which means penalties (and scoring opportunities) are down, as well.

So, for now, say goodbye to eye-popping individual numbers.

Crosby is scoring points at a 1.1-per-game pace, which is well off his 1.37 career average. Twice this season, he has gone eight games without scoring a goal.

He is on pace to score 86 points, which would be 18 fewer than the 104 points he scored last year to lead the league.

He will be the first player in 11 years to lead the league in scoring in an 82-game season without cracking 100 points (Martin St Louis, with 94 in 2003/04).

And if 86 points or fewer is his final number, he will lead the league with the puniest total since Stan Mikita of the Chicago Blackhawks collected 87 in the 1967/68 season.

Of course, the issue of low-scoring games has been an open, league-wide frown for several years. Crosby did score more than 100 points last year, but he was the only one in the NHL.

Same with Art Ross Trophy winners Malkin (109 in 2011/2012) and Daniel Sedin (104 in 2010/11.)

Still, Crosby has been questioned as if this is a personal failing. As recently as two weeks ago, he told the Canadian Press, “I wouldn’t change anything I’m doing, to be honest with you.

“I’m doing my best. If people’s expectations are higher than mine, then I can’t change that.”

Meanwhile, when Voracek was asked about the scoring chase, he took note of the man at the top.

“He’s the best player in the world,” Voracek said.

Depressed numbers and all.

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