Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 29 September 2020

NHL highs and lows: Sidney Crosby’s long journey passes a major milestone

Rob McKenzie’s look at last week’s NHL action focuses on a landmark achievement for the game’s greatest current player.

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1. Close...

As the week began Sidney Crosby needed two more points to reach 1,000 for his career. He had been held scoreless in his two prior games, his longest dry spell of a season in which he ranks second in the league in points scored.

Crosby has undergone a renaissance over the past year, adding a 2016 Stanley Cup title to go along with his first, from 2009. Having found his second wind after his lows of 2011, he has closed down any discussion of who the world’s best hockey player is.

For Pittsburgh’s No 87, last week’s first chance to be the 86th man in quadruple digits came against the visiting Vancouver Canucks.

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2. ... closer

Crosby was scoreless through the first two periods of Tuesday’s game. Early in the third, with the Penguins up 1-0, he was stationed near the side of the Vancouver net – he is thick as an oak tree and really hard to dislodge once planted. The rookie Jake Guentzel had the puck in the high slot. He passed to Crosby – Vancouver’s Alex Edler was flummoxed on D, poking out his stick to block the pass instead of taking the man – and Crosby passed back to Guentzel to complete the give-and-go for an easy score.

One point left to go, and his next crack would come Thursday against Winnipeg.

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3. ...there!

Crosby’s prospects seemed good against the Jets – he started the night with a career average of 1.57 points per game against the Atlanta/Winnipeg franchise. The only team that allow him to score more are the New York Islanders, at 1.75, says Stats LLC.

Crosby made short work of it. He scored point 1,000 on an assist in the first period. He worked hard for this point, as he usually does. A shot from the point rebounded into the open in the face-off circle. Crosby, who had been around the crease, outraced Winnipeg’s Blake Wheeler to the puck, then used his hips to shake off Wheeler with a spin move. A quick pass to Chris Kunitz in the slot, and Crosby puts the M in milestone. Later he assisted on a Phil Kessel goal to tie the game at 3 and give himself a palindromic 1,001 points.

And then...

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4. And another!

... Crosby finished off the Jets with the overtime winner when he cashed in a pass from Evgeni Malkin.

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5. Fast company

Crosby reached 1,000 points in his 757th career game. Only 11 players have gotten there more quickly – Wayne Gretzky (424 games), Mario Lemieux (513), Mike Bossy (656), Peter Stastny (682), Jari Kurri (716), Guy Lafleur (720), Bryan Trottier (726), Denis Savard (722), Steve Yzerman (737), Marcel Dionne (740) and Phil Esposito (745).

What all of those guys have in common is they played in the 1970s and ‘80s, when scoring was off the charts. In 1983/84 Edmonton scored a league-record 446 goals. In comparison, last season’s top-scoring team was Dallas with 267 goals, which would have been third-lowest in the league in 83/84.

But what counts is that Crosby got there. As the Pittsburgh journalist Jonathan Bombulie wrote: “... here’s the best part about the 1,000-point plateau for Crosby. It’s not 572 points.”

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6. Dark days

That is how many points Crosby had on January 5, 2011 when he suffered his second concussion in five days. This led to the darkest period of his career. As his brain slowly healed, he played only eight games between then and March 15, 2012.

He returned home to Nova Scotia. For a while he could not focus sufficiently to watch TV or read. Then when he got a bit better and tried skating, the symptoms would return. David Epstein of Sports Illustrated described these months as being spent in “darkened rooms and doctors’ offices”.

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7. Hockey family

Crosby is not the only member of his family to suffer from hockey. Six years ago his sister, Taylor, then 14, was concussed during practice for the Minnesota prep school where she played goalie. This was at the same time as her big brother was sidelined by concussion.

The Crosbys are a hockey family. The father, Troy, like Taylor a goalie, was chosen 240th overall by the Montreal Canadiens in the 1984 draft but never made the big leagues.

The first pick in that year’s draft? Mario Lemieux, the Penguins hero whose final season in black and gold was Crosby’s first. Crosby even lived at Lemieux’s house for a while as he settled into Pittsburgh.

Lemieux owns the team now.

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8. Nothing to prove

Crosby missed the first six games of the current season because of a new concussion that he believes he suffered during pre-season practice.

The brain is a fragile thing. The lingering damage from concussions grows worse with recurrence. You cannot just shake this off.

Crosby is on top of the hockey world ... but one headshot, one awkward moment against the boards, and who knows? He has nothing to prove anymore, and he is only 29 years old.

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9. Play-offs ahead

But for now he remains the best, and he wants to lead his Penguins to a third Stanley Cup. On Friday the team travelled to Columbus to play the Blue Jackets, division rivals that could well be Pittsburgh’s first-round play-off opponents.

The Jackets are young, fast, tough and deep. They have been this season’s breakout team. They took Pittsburgh to overtime on Friday. Crosby was out there for the first shift of OT and with him on the ice the Pens dominated. But after the first line change, with Malkin, Kessel and Trevor Daley as the Pens’ skaters, Columbus quickly scored.

The result moved Columbus within a point of Pittsburgh in the standings. The teams meet once more, on April 4, shortly before the regular season ends.

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10. Point 1,003

The week ended on a down beat for Pittsburgh.

The Pens hosted Detroit, not a very good team, on Sunday. Crosby scored his league-leading 32nd goal but was a minus-two for the afternoon. The Detroit goals that he was on the ice for were not his fault, though. The first was a shot that the Pens goalie Matt Murray should have saved. The second was because of a bad turnover by Guentzel. The third was an empty-netter, where Crosby’s only liability was that he lost the preceding face-off to Steve Ott.

Final score: 5-2 Detroit, ending Pittsburgh’s streak of nine games without suffering a defeat in regulation time.

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11. In summation

If the play-offs started today Washington, with a league-leading 85 points, would play Toronto. Pittsburgh would face Columbus. Montreal, who last week dismissed Michel Therrien as coach and replaced him with Claude Julien, whom Boston had let go of seven days earlier, would meet the NY Rangers. Ottawa would play Boston. In the west it would be Minnesota-Calgary, Chicago-St Louis, San Jose-Nashville and Edmonton-Anaheim.

Standouts The only new name atop a leaderboard is Ryan Suter, who at plus-35 has replaced Brooks Orpik as the pace-setter in plus-minus. Otherwise the top names remain the same: Connor McDavid in points at 67, Crosby in goals with his 32, Antoine Roussel in penalty minutes at 115, Dustin Byfuglien in ice time at 27:26 a night. In net, Jimmy Howard in goals-against average at 1.96 and Braden Holtby and Peter Budaj in shutouts at 7.

Standard-bearer Jaromir Jagr scored his 1,900th NHL point on Wednesday, his 45th birthday. His assist in traffic on an Aleksander Barkov goal gave Florida a 5-3 lead en route to a 6-5 overtime victory at San Jose. Jagr is the third skater aged 45 or more in league history and ranks second all-time on the NHL scoring list.

rmckenzie@thenational.ae

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Updated: February 20, 2017 04:00 AM

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