Remember when Sidney Crosby was publicly criticized by some members of the media — here’s one particular example — as the Pittsburgh Penguins faced elimination in the Eastern Conference Final?
Well, the Penguins’ captain set the tone for the Stanley Cup Final, as Pittsburgh grabbed a 1-0 series lead with a thrilling 3-2 win over the San Jose Sharks on Monday.
Crosby had an assist, setting up Conor Sheary for the second goal of the evening. He had four shots on goal in almost 21 minutes of ice time and his line with Sheary and Patric Hornqvist was, for the most part, dominant in possession.
(On the ice together for 13:37 at five-on-five, Crosby and Hornqvist had Corsi For ratings of 56.52 per cent, as per War-on-Ice.)
“He steps up in big games and he always has and he always will. He’s the leader in this locker room and on the ice, and you expect that from him in games like this,” Sheary told reporters.
On the Sheary goal, Crosby was able to win a race with Sharks’ defenseman Justin Braun to the puck, turn on a dime as Braun lost an edge and slid to the ice, and find Sheary wide open in the slot. With Marc-Edouard Vlasic preoccupied dealing with Hornqvist in front, Sheary ripped a shot stick side on Martin Jones.
“He sees you all over the ice. They overbackchecked a bit and I found that soft area. I was looking far side (on Jones),” said Sheary.
“That’s what Sid is always great at — getting guys to overplay him so he can find the other guy that can get open to give you more time and space with the puck, because us other guys, we need that time and space,” added Chris Kunitz to NHL.com.
That was part of a long night for Braun and Vlasic in trying to at least contain the Crosby line.
Sheary and Hornqvist both benefited with sterling possession numbers against both Sharks’ blue liners, who seem to have drawn the main assignment against No. 87.
Here’s a look at those numbers (again, from War-on-Ice):
Hornqvist vs. Vlasic: 62.5 per cent Corsi For, five Events For versus three Events Against, in 6:49.
Hornqvist vs. Braun: 63.64 per cent Corsi For, seven Events For versus four Events Against, in 7:56.
Sheary vs. Vlasic: 58.33 per cent Corsi For, seven Events For versus five Events Against, in 6:45.
Sheary vs. Braun: 60 per cent Corsi For, nine Events For versus six Events Against, in 7:33.
(In fairness to Braun, he is also dealing with a personal issue after losing his father-in-law, NHL veteran Tom Lysiak, after a battle with leukemia prior to Game 1.)
The Penguins now go for the 2-0 series lead on Wednesday.
On Tuesday, as the Penguins held an optional skate, Crosby was apparently one of two regulars on the ice.
“I don’t think he’s as good as he is by accident,” Penguins coach Mike Sullivan told reporters.
“As long as I’ve been associated with this league, I don’t know that I’ve been around a player that has the same work ethic as Sid does as far as that insatiable appetite to just try to get better and be the best. I think that’s why he’s as good as he is.”