TORONTO, ON - SEPTEMBER 17:  Sidney Crosby #87 of Team Canada eyes the puck during the second period while playing Team Czech Republic during the World Cup of Hockey at the Air Canada Center on September 17, 2016 in Toronto, Canada.  (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
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It was the Sidney Crosby show for Canada

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The 2015-16 campaign was a tale of two different seasons for Sidney Crosby.

There was the first season — the bad one — that covered the first 20 games where he had only 11 points and wasn’t even one of the top 120 scorers in the NHL.

It was at this point that his status as the NHL’s best player was questioned (it shouldn’t have been) and there was an endless “what’s wrong with Sidney Crosby” debate going on.

Then there was the second season — the good one! — that covered the remaining 62 games of the regular season where he had 74 points and was the leading scorer in the NHL during that stretch. He continued that level of play in the playoffs by playing a dominant two-way game and winning the Conn Smythe Trophy to help the Pittsburgh Penguins win their fourth Stanley Cup in franchise history, and the second of the Crosby era.

That Sidney Crosby showed up on Saturday night in Canada’s 6-0 win over the Czech Republic in their 2016 World Cup opener.

Crosby only played 13 minutes in the win, but he made the most of those minutes, scoring a goal, adding two assists, recording five shots on goal and finishing as a plus-4. He was, quite simply, the best player on the ice every time he took a shift.

He spent most of his night on a line with Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron, a trio that was dominant throughout the pre-tournament games and overwhelmed the Czech Republic on Saturday.

All three players scored a goal in the first period, with Crosby opening the scoring mid-way through the period from below the goal line. This is the angle he scored from.

TORONTO, ON - SEPTEMBER 17: Sidney Crosby #87 of Team Canada scores at 8:26 of the first period against Michal Neuvirth #30 of Team Czech Republic during the World Cup of Hockey tournament at the Air Canada Centre on September 17, 2016 in Toronto, Canada. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
TORONTO, ON – SEPTEMBER 17: Sidney Crosby #87 of Team Canada scores at 8:26 of the first period against Michal Neuvirth #30 of Team Czech Republic during the World Cup of Hockey tournament at the Air Canada Centre on September 17, 2016 in Toronto, Canada. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

He assisted on Marchand’s goal later in the period and was also on the ice for Bergeron’s buzzer-beating goal to close out the period.

He completed his scoring when he set up Joe Thornton‘s second period goal with this incredible backhand pass through the slot.

When it comes to a full 82-game NHL schedule you probably should not expect Crosby to consistently score like he did four or five years ago, simply because he isn’t in his mid-20s anymore, the age where players tend to score at their peak levels. But he is still the best player in the game and is still going to have games like he had on Saturday where he not only takes over and dominates, but puts a bunch of points on the board.

Canada already has the best roster in the tournament on paper. When they also have the best player in hockey playing at the level he was at on Saturday, it is going to make them extremely difficult to beat.

Team Canada to sit Sidney Crosby in World Cup pre-tournament rematch with Team USA

France v Canada - 2015 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship
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After long-time rivals Team Canada and Team USA renewed hostilities yesterday, the two teams meet again in a World Cup pre-tournament rematch on Saturday in Ottawa.

As per Hockey Canada on Saturday, coach Mike Babcock will sit team captain Sidney Crosby and defenseman Jake Muzzin for tonight’s game, which concludes a back-to-back set.

The physical play from Friday was a major topic of discussion, particularly after hits from Ryan Kesler on Shea Weber and T.J. Oshie on Logan Couture. Team USA tried targeting Crosby early in the game, which Weber took exception to.

Claude Giroux was on the receiving end of a big hit a split second after the whistle from Joe Pavelski.

After what transpired Friday, could the bad blood boil over to tonight’s contest? Or will cooler heads prevail?

Sidney Crosby: ‘I don’t want to struggle like that again’

TAMPA, FL - MAY 24:  Sidney Crosby #87 of the Pittsburgh Penguins looks to face off against the Tampa Bay Lightning in Game Six of the Eastern Conference Final during the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Amalie Arena on May 24, 2016 in Tampa, Florida.  (Photo by Mike Carlson/Getty Images)
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Consider this an unofficial extension of Pittsburgh Penguins day at PHT.

Sidney Crosby, who had a difficult start to last season before both he and the Penguins took off toward a Stanley Cup victory and No. 87 won the Conn Smythe Trophy, has opened up about the personal doubt he experienced during the 2015-16 campaign, particularly during the team’s struggles in the first half of the season, in a piece for Sports Illustrated.

— He addressed the pressure he felt from fans as he struggled to produce offensively and the team found itself in a fight just to make the playoffs.

— He detailed how, on a personal level, this Stanley Cup victory was different from his first, and suggested that the Penguins, at a point last season, were considered a joke.

From Sports Illustrated:

I won’t rest on my laurels. I just can’t. Winning is special. If last season taught me anything, it was how thin the line is between being “washed up” and lifting the Stanley Cup. I don’t want to struggle like that again. That October to December stretch was awful; the lowest point of my career outside of injury. I’ll put in any amount of work I have to so I don’t have to go through that again.

As if outrunning the downside of my career wasn’t motivation enough, the new guys coming into the league will surely have my attention, too. These are the young and hungry guys. The guys that want to be where you are. They’re fast. They’re strong. And with all the young talent throughout the league, it just makes you want to get better yourself. That’s such a fun (and underrated) part of the game to me. I love having to adjust and adapt my game year-to-year to find ways to be my best.

Despite that much-discussed slow start, he still finished third in the league with 85 points in 80 games in the regular season. Only Jamie Benn (89) and Patrick Kane (106) had more points than Crosby, who is now 29 years old.

As Adam Gretz pointed out on PHT yesterday, it’s all about creating realistic expectations for Crosby moving forward.

He is still an elite player. And he seems intent on proving it again.

Related:

Sidney Crosby named captain of Canada’s World Cup team

Creating a realistic expectation for Sidney Crosby’s point total in 2016

WASHINGTON, DC - MAY 07: Sidney Crosby #87 of the Pittsburgh Penguins looks on during warmups before playing the against the Washington Capitals in Game Five of the Eastern Conference Second Round during the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Verizon Center on May 7, 2016 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
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This is part of Pittsburgh Penguins day at PHT…

The 2015-16 season had to be the most bizarre season of Sidney Crosby‘s NHL career to this point.

It started with one of the worst 30-game stretches of his NHL career (a stretch where he had just 19 total points), prompting a league-wide discussion where everybody tried to figure out what exactly was wrong with him and why he suddenly lost the ability to score like one of the league’s top players.

It ended with him hoisting the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP after helping lead the Penguins to a Stanley Cup win, erasing five years worth of talk about how he and his team were underachievers in the playoffs.

It wasn’t the ending anybody expected at the start of the season, and especially at the start of December when the season seemed like it was starting to slip away from them.

Much of the blame for his — and the team’s — early struggles was put on the defensive system put in place by coach Mike Johnston. That point was only driven home more in the second half of the season and the playoffs when Crosby — and the Penguins offense as a team — did a complete 180 and took off, skyrocketing to the top of the league.

Crosby himself went from being on a 56-point pace through the first 30 games of the season, to finishing as the third-leading scorer in the league.

The difference in Crosby’s production under the two coaches last season creates creates an interesting question heading into the 2016-17 season: Will he be able return to being the 100-point player he was as recently as two years ago when he was by far the most dominant offensive player in the league, and if not what should we realistically expect?

While Crosby’s production under Johnston for his year-and-a-half tenure behind the bench was the worst of his career, it is also probably unfair to put all of the blame on the coach for that drop in production. The systematic changes and defensive expectations had to definitely play some role in it, but there was a lot more going on than just a chance in coaches and system.

Two other key major contributing factors:

  1. Nearly every top player in the NHL has seen a drop in their production in recent years because goal scoring at a league-wide level continues to trend toward all-time low territory. Since the start of the 2011-12 season only five players have topped 90 points in a single season, while only two (Crosby in 2013-14 and Patrick Kane in 2015-16) have done it over the past three years. Anything over 80 points these days is an elite scorer.
  2. The other factor is that Crosby himself is now in his late 20s, and while he could still have another decade of high level play in the NHL ahead of him, it is likely that he has already played his best hockey, at least when it comes to scoring. Scorers tend to have their best seasons between the ages of 23 and 26, and Crosby’s career has been no different. During those seasons he averaged 1.47 points per game, a pace that is good enough for 120 points over 82 games. The disappointing thing for Crosby and the Penguins during that time is that injuries (and a half season lockout) limited him to just 179 out of a possible 294 regular season games. He was able to play more than 41 games in only one of those four seasons. That means the NHL never really had a chance to fully see Sidney Crosby at his absolute best.

Keep in mind that 1.47 per-game average that Crosby had between his age 23 and 26 seasons. That is an unbelievable level of production for any era of hockey, even going back to the run-and-gun 1980s. You should not realistically expect that level of play from him anymore because the two points made above. It’s an impossible standard for anybody. Over the past 20 years only seven different players have averaged at least 1.47 points per game in a full season. Even Kane “only” averaged 1.29 this past season when he ran away with the scoring title.

If you look at Crosby’s performance last season in only the games that were coached by Sullivan, he had 66 points in 52 regular season games. That is a 1.26 point per game average (103 points over 82 games). If you include the playoffs, it was 85 points in 76 games, a 1.11 point per game average (93 points over 82 games). Both are an obvious increase from the Johnston-coached days, but they are also still a pretty significant decrease from what those totals were five or six years ago when he was scoring at an 120-point pace every year.

That is also the expectation that should probably exist going forward for Crosby.

It’s not unfair to say that Crosby is slowing down as a scorer. Because he is. It’s something that happens to every player when they reach this age. Even the greatest players ever like Gretzky and Lemieux saw significant drops in their scoring after they turned 27.

It also means there shouldn’t be a league-wide panic when he goes through a scoring slump at some point in the season.

It doesn’t mean there is anything wrong with him, it just means that he’s not 24 anymore and shouldn’t be expected to score like he is.

He is still going to be the best offensive player in the world. It’s just going to be at a 90-95 point level instead of a 110-120 point level.

Sidney Crosby named captain of Canada’s World Cup team

SAN JOSE, CA - JUNE 12:  Sidney Crosby #87 of the Pittsburgh Penguins celebrates with the Stanley Cup after their 3-1 victory to win the Stanley Cup against the San Jose Sharks in Game Six of the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Final at SAP Center on June 12, 2016 in San Jose, California.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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After leading the Pittsburgh Penguins to a Stanley Cup victory in 2016, Sidney Crosby has been named the captain of team Canada for the 2016 World Cup of Hockey.

Hockey Canada made the announcement on Thursday morning.

Chicago Blackhawks forward Jonathan Toews and Montreal Canadiens defenseman Shea Weber, also long-time members of Team Canada in international competition, will serve as the assistant captains.

Crosby has won gold with team Canada at various tournaments, including the 2015 World Championship (where he also served as captain) and the 2010 and 2014 Winter Olympics.

He is also a two-time Stanley Cup champion in the NHL with the Penguins, serving as captain on their 2009 and 2016 championship teams.

Crosby had a slow start to the 2015-16 season and through the first two months was posting some of the worst numbers of his career. But following the in-season coaching change and a new-look roster around him he quickly climbed the NHL’s scoring leaderboard and finished the season with 85 points in 80 games, good enough for third best in the league. He also won the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP.

In 31 games for Team Canada at the World Championships and Olympics, Crosby has scored 17 goals and recorded 17 assists.

The World Cup of Hockey takes place in Toronto between September 17 and October 1.