PITTSBURGH — Sidney Crosby added to his league leading goal total on Saturday night when he scored in the final minute of regulation to send the Penguins and Devils to overtime, setting the stage for Pittsburgh’s 4-3 shootout win.
For Crosby, it was already his 15th goal of the season and puts him three ahead of every other player in the NHL. He has opened up that lead even though he missed the first six games of the season due to a concussion.
Three of the four players tied for second place with 12 goals (Patrik Laine, Alex Ovechkin and Michael Grabner) have all played in at least five more games than him, while David Pastrnak (also with 12 goals) has played in the same number of games — 16.
But it is not just the fact that Crosby is outscoring the rest of the league right now that stands out. It is also the fact he is currently on one of the best goal scoring tears of his entire career. That is no small accomplishment.
With his goal on Saturday, a play where he had to dig the puck out of a mass of humanity in front of the net before roofing it just under the cross bar, he is now up to 15 goals in 16 games.
If you break his career down into 16-game sections he has only ever had a handful of runs that match this current one.
- During the 2010-11 season, the year where he probably played the absolute best of hockey of his career, he had a handful of 16-game stretches where he scored more than 16 goals. The best of those came during a stretch between Nov. 6 and Dec. 8 where he scored 20 goals. He ended up scoring 32 goals in 41 games that year (while also adding 34 assists) before his season was ended due to a concussion.
- During the 2009-10 season, when he scored 51 goals and finished in a tie with Steven Stamkos for the NHL goal scoring crown, he had a 16-game stretch with 16 goals in late January and early February.
- He had one 16-game stretch between Dec. 30 and Feb. 8 of the 2015-16 season where he scored 17 goals.
Other than those three examples, he has never really had a stretch in his career where he has scored goals the way he is at this very moment.
There are a couple of factors at play here.
The biggest one is that he is shooting the puck at a rate that he has not reached since that two-year window between 2009-10 and 2010-11 when he was the best goal scorer in hockey (he had 83 goals between the start of the 2009-10 season and New Years Day, 2011, more than any other player in hockey during that stretch. Stamkos was second with 82. Alex Ovechkin was third with 64).
For a few years after that he drifted back toward being more of a playmaker and puck distributor (sometimes to a fault) than a shooter. That showed up in the numbers in recent years when his shot-per-game averages reached some of the lowest points of his career, especially over the past two seasons.
That has changed this season. After Saturday he is now averaging 3.68 shots per game, a number that matches exactly what he did in 2009-10 when he led the league in goals. Shot volume is a big part of being an elite goal scorer.
The other factor — and this is always a controversial thing to say about great players when they are scoring like this — is that he has had some luck on his side.
A lot of it, actually.
Every single bounce is going his way at the moment, and he has at times scored goals from seemingly impossible angles and on plays where he wasn’t even trying to score. Take the Penguins’ recent 6-1 win in New York against the Rangers when he scored a goal on a two-on-one rush when he was literally attempting to pass the puck only to have it bounce in the net off of Ryan McDonagh. He has had a couple of goals this season that he has scored from below the goal line on weird bounces.
Eventually some of that luck will run out.
There is going to come a point this year where he is still playing extremely well but doesn’t get those bounces and the goal numbers will probably run dry. That is when you will see that 25 percent shooting percentage he is currently carrying around (nearly 11 points higher than his career average) start to regress a little. That is simply how hockey works. But as long as he keeps taking more than three-and-a-half shots per game, those dry spells won’t be as frequent or last quite as long.
You are still not likely to ever see him produce points over a full 82-game season the way he did earlier in his career.
But for the time being he is the perfect storm of shot volume and puck luck, and it is helping him set the stage for what could be a run at the goal scoring crown.