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Turn it up to 11? Pens, Caps have a lot to live up to

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by WILL GRAVES (AP Sports Writer)

PITTSBURGH (AP) — Sidney Crosby doesn’t think the Pittsburgh Penguins have some sort of mystical edge over the Washington Capitals. That all those series and all those years and all that dominance will not mean a thing when the two longtime rivals meet in the playoffs for the 11th time starting Thursday night in the Eastern Conference semifinals.

Of course, it’s kind of easy to say that when you’re on the side that always wins.

Eras change. Stars change. Coaches change. Styles change (well, sort of). The result when the Penguins are on one bench and the Capitals are on the other and a spot in the next round in the pursuit of a Stanley Cup is on the line does not. The Penguins have won nine of the 10 previous meetings.

Epic collapses. Unlikely comebacks. Wild finishes. Emotional scar tissue from losses that come from being the hockey equivalent of Sisyphus. Hall of Famers (and future Hall of Famers) all over the place — particularly if you wear black-and-gold.

Crosby, Alex Ovechkin and company have a lot to live up to. But before we throw ourselves into the physical and psychological maw for two weeks, let’s press our finger on the bruises – or relive the joy, depending on your point of view – of the magic and misery that came before and almost certainly is to come.

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

THE YEAR: 1991

THE ROUND: Patrick Division Finals

THE RESULT: Penguins in 5.

THE DEFINING MOMENT: The Capitals scored three times in the first 10:26 of the third period of Game 2 in Pittsburgh to take the lead. Randy Gilhen – he of the three career playoff goals – jumped onto the ice during a delayed Washington penalty and emerged from a sea of bodies to tie it with less than 5 minutes left in regulation. Kevin Stevens won it with a wrist shot off a pretty setup by Ron Francis 8:10 into overtime to even the series. The Capitals scored three goals total the rest of the way as the Penguins advanced to the conference finals for the first time in franchise history.

GUT PUNCH LEVEL: 2. The massively talented Penguins had seven Hall of Famers on the roster (eight if you include the ageless and sure-to-be inducted Jaromir Jagr) and won their first Cup two rounds later.

THE YEAR: 1992

THE ROUND: Patrick Division Semifinals

THE SERIES: Penguins in 7.

THE DEFINING MOMENT: The Capitals sprinted to a 3-1 series lead. After getting drilled at home in Game 5, Washington led 4-2 4 minutes into the second period of Game 6. And then Mario Lemieux happened . Super Mario scored or assisted on three power-play goals over the final 30 minutes as the Penguins tied the series, then shut the Caps down in Game 7, a 3-1 win on the road to propel them to a second straight Cup.

GUT PUNCH LEVEL: 8. Pittsburgh had a bit of a Cup hangover after winning it all in ’91 and appeared on the verge of collapse after the Capitals crushed them 7-2 in Game 4. And then … well, consider this the start of a trend.

THE YEAR: 1994

THE ROUND: Eastern Conference quarterfinals.

THE SERIES: Capitals in 6.

THE DEFINING MOMENT: Washington again jumped out to a 3-1 series lead only to lose Game 5 at home. Back in Pittsburgh for Game 6, the Capitals went up 3-0 only to have the Penguins cut it to 3-2 after the first period. Momentum teetering, Washington defenseman Calle Johansson beat Tom Barrasso 1:25 into the second to restore the Caps’ two-goal lead and Washington closed out Pittsburgh for the first – and only – time.

GUT PUNCH LEVEL: 6. Pittsburgh viewed 1994 as a redemption tour after its bid for a three-peat was derailed by the Islanders in the 1993 playoffs. The Penguins won the Northeast Division and had the third-best record in the league only to lose to a Capitals team that started the season 0-6 and fired coach Terry Murray at midseason and replaced him with Jim Schoenfeld.

THE YEAR: 1995

THE ROUND: Eastern Conference quarterfinals.

THE SERIES: Penguins in 7.

THE DEFINING MOMENT: Lemieux sat out the lockout shortened 1994-95 season due to fatigue and the Capitals took advantage in the playoffs. Washington – stop us if you’ve heard this before – headed to Pittsburgh with a 3-1 lead and jumped ahead four separate times in front of a stunned crowd at the Igloo. Kevin Stevens, however, drew the Penguins even with 8:18 left in regulation and Luc Robitaille kept Pittsburgh’s season alive with his OT winner 4:30 into the first extra period to give the Penguins a 6-5 victory. Pittsburgh went on to win Games 6 and 7 by a combined 10-1.

GUT PUNCH LEVEL: 9. For a franchise that didn’t exactly have a reputation for answering when pushed, Washington’s remarkable play in Game 5 went against the grain and they didn’t have to worry about Lemieux. And yet …

THE YEAR: 1996

THE ROUND: Eastern Conference quarterfinals.

THE SERIES: Penguins in 7.

THE DEFINING MOMENT: Make it defining moments. All of them seeming to come in an epic Game 4 . The Capitals led 2-1 and didn’t have to contend with Lemieux after he was ejected late in the second period for fighting Washington’s Pat Peake. Regulation ended tied at 2. So did the first overtime. And the second (after Washington’s Joe Juneau couldn’t convert the first overtime penalty shot in NHL history ). And the third. With 45 seconds left in the fourth extra period, Petr Nedved threw a shot in from outside the left circle that slipped by Olaf Kolzig and into the net to tie the series. Pittsburgh captured the next two to advance to the conference finals.

GUT PUNCH LEVEL: They might not have invented the number yet to rate the emotional toll of this one. Say ”Nedved” around Caps’ fans at your own risk.

THE YEAR: 2000

THE ROUND: Eastern Conference quarterfinals.

THE SERIES: Penguins in 5.

THE DEFINING MOMENT: Washington lost 7-0 in Game 1 but had a chance to even the series when Game 2 went to overtime. Jaromir Jagr, however, effectively ended the competitive portion of things with a power-play goal 5:49 into overtime as the Penguins – who finished a middling third in the Atlantic Division – knocked off the Southeast Division champions with relative ease.

GUT PUNCH LEVEL: 3. Washington’s record was a bit of a mirage in a division that included the teams (Atlanta and Tampa Bay) that finished with the two worst records in the NHL.

THE YEAR: 2001

THE ROUND: Eastern Conference quarterfinals.

THE SERIES: Penguins in 6.

THE DEFINING MOMENT: The last great stand of the Lemieux-Jagr partnership. Super Mario scored the game-winning goals in both Game 2 and Game 5 and Martin Straka’s OT winner finished off the Capitals in six games. Washington was built on coach Ron Wilson’s defensive style but the Penguins – as they almost always did – found a way to squeak by anyway. Pittsburgh allowed just 10 goals in six games.

GUT PUNCH LEVEL: 4. At this point, the rivalry had gotten to the point where the Capitals appeared to be waiting for the other shoe to drop.

THE YEAR: 2009

THE ROUND: Eastern Conference semifinals.

THE SERIES: Penguins in 7.

THE DEFINING MOMENT: Let’s just go with the whole thing. The NHL pulled itself out of the 2004-05 lockout largely on the back of Crosby and Ovechkin. Meeting in the playoffs for the first time, they somehow exceeded massive expectations. They put up matching hat tricks in Washington’s Game 2 win. The Penguins responded by ripping off three straight only to have Washington force a Game 7 with an overtime victory in Pittsburgh in Game 6 (helped by three Ovechkin assists). Was this ”The Year”? SPOILER ALERT: No. At home in Game 7, the Capitals collapsed. Crosby opened the scoring, the Penguins were up by four just 2:12 into the second and that was it.

GUT PUNCH LEVEL: 7.5. It probably should be higher because of Washington’s very un-Capslike rally in Game 6 on the road but the Penguins were coming off a season in which they were a Stanley Cup runner-up and just proved to be more mature when it mattered.

THE YEAR: 2016

THE ROUND: Eastern Conference semifinals

THE SERIES: Penguins in 6.

THE DEFINING MOMENT: Pittsburgh was in a malaise in December and fired coach Mike Johnston in favor of Mike Sullivan. General manager Jim Rutherford overhauled the roster to one built on speed and depth. All three goal scorers in Pittsburgh’s clinching Game 6 win – Phil Kessel, Carl Hagelin and Nick Bonino – were brought in by Rutherford to ramp up the team’s quickness. Together they formed the ”HBK” line and Bonino’s jam into the net 6:32 into overtime showcased the depth the Penguins needed to take some of the pressure off Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.

GUT PUNCH LEVEL: 9. The Capitals captured the Presidents’ Trophy by posting 120 points, 11 more than the next best team. They had home ice and a Vezina Trophy-winning goaltender in Braden Holtby, who lost in regulation only nine times during the regular season. Still, Holtby was outplayed – just a tad – by 21-year-old rookie Matt Murray.

THE YEAR: 2017

THE ROUND: Eastern Conference semifinals.

THE SERIES: Penguins in 7.

THE DEFINING MOMENT: Maybe Matt Niskanen‘s controversial shot to Crosby’s head in Game 3 that forced Crosby to miss Game 4? Washington’s comeback from a 3-1 deficit to force Game 7? Let’s go with Penguins goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury. The winningest netminder in franchise history had lost his job to Murray over the course of the season but was pressed into action when Murray was injured before Game 1 of Pittsburgh’s opening-round series against Columbus. Fleury was brilliant, no more so than in Game 7 against the Caps. He stopped 29 shots for his ninth career playoff shutout, including a save on an Ovechkin one-timer with the butt end of his stick late in the second period to preserve a one-goal lead.

GUT PUNCH LEVEL: 6. Why 6? Call it the emotional calluses of disappointment. If this loss was to say, the New York Rangers, it may have been more traumatic. But this is what happens when the Capitals play the Penguins.

More NHL hockey: https://apnews.com/tag/NHLhockey

WATCH LIVE: Rangers visit Capitals on NBCSN

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NBC’s coverage of the 2018-19 NHL season continues with Wednesday night’s matchup between the New York Rangers and Washington Capitals at 7 p.m. ET. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports App by clicking here.

After a hot start to the 2018-19 season that saw them score 18 goals in their first three games, the defending Stanley Cup champion Washington Capitals have dropped back-to-back games and been outscored by a 10-2 margin during that stretch. They look to end that brief two-game slide on Wednesday night when they host their divisional rivals, the New York Rangers, at the Capital One Arena in the nation’s capital.

The Rangers, meanwhile, come into the game having won two of their past three games after dropping three in a row to open the season but are still searching for their first regulation win of the season. It will be the first meeting of the season between the two teams after the Capitals took three out of four from the Rangers a year ago.

The Capitals boast one of the league’s deepest lineups and are led by Alex Ovechkin and Evgeny Kuznetsov. Kuznetsov has been one of the hottest players in the league to start the year with five goals and four assists in his first five games.

Trying to slow them down will be Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist who has been off to an outstanding start as he enters the game with a .939 save percentage in his first five appearances.

What: New York Rangers at Washington Capitals
Where: Capital One Arena
When: Wednesday, October 17th, 7 p.m. ET
TV: NBCSN
Live stream: You can watch the Rangers-Capitals stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.

Projected Lineups

New York Rangers

Forwards

Chris KreiderMika ZibanejadJesper Fast
Filip ChytilKevin HayesMats Zuccarello
Jimmy Vesey – Brett Howden – Vladislav Namestnikov
Cody McLeodRyan SpoonerVinni Lettieri

Defense

Brady SkjeiNeal Pionk
Marc StaalBrendan Smith
Fredrik ClaessonKevin Shattenkirk

Goalie: Henrik Lundqvist

[WATCH LIVE – 7 P.M. ET – NBCSN]

Washington Capitals

Forwards

Alex Ovechkin – Evgeny Kuznetsov – Chandler Stephenson
Jakub VranaNicklas BackstromT.J. Oshie
Andre BurakovskyLars EllerBrett Connolly
Nathan WalkerNic DowdDevante Smith-Pelly

Defense

Michal KempnyJohn Carlson
Dmitry OrlovMatt Niskanen
Brooks OrpikChristian Djoos

Starting Goalie: Braden Holtby

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Panthers’ Matheson disappointed with suspension, but understands it

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Florida Panthers defenseman Mike Matheson spoke to the media on Wednesday for the first time since he was handed a two-game suspension for slamming Vancouver Canucks Elias Pettersson to the ice over the weekend, leaving the rookie concussed and temporarily out of the lineup.

It was definitely an interesting couple of minutes as Matheson shared his version of what happened, as well as his feelings on the play, the outside perception of it, and the league’s decision.

“As a player you never go around trying to injure people,” Matheson said. “I know that’s not part of my game regardless of what happens on the play. Hopefully he’ll be back in the lineup soon. I’m definitely disappointed with the decision to suspend me for two games because I know deep down there was no frustration in me when that play happened, and there was no intent to injure. It was obviously an unfortunate event.”

Despite that disappointment, Matheson had a chance to reflect on the play after watching the replay and said he definitely understands the decision.

[Related: Panthers’ Matheson suspended two games]

“Having said that, after the game I’ve been able to watch the play numerous times, and I definitely understand what they saw and why they thought it was worth two games,” said Matheson. “The league is really focussing in on head injuries and protecting their players, which I am fully on board with and I support 100 percent.”

“I get it,” Matheson continued when asked a follow up about understanding why the league felt the need to suspend him.

“But at the same time it wasn’t my intent, it wasn’t at all what I meant to do. At any level I’ve never been a malicious player or someone that goes around trying to hurt players because I expect to receive the same respect in return, and that’s what hockey is about. So it’s two-fold. I can see it. I can see the point of view where people would say it was malicious and it was deserving of a suspension, but I know how I was feeling in the moment, and I know what I was thinking and it just wasn’t that and that’s what I’m disappointed about it.”

That is kind of refreshing take from a player in Matheson’s position.

He obviously doesn’t agree with the decision, or the outside of assessment of what happened or what his intent was. But his willingness to acknowledge that it looks bad, and that the result was bad, is something you don’t usually hear from a suspended player. Usually it’s defiance. Or blaming the player on the receiving end of the play. Or just a total disregarded for what happened.

That is not at all what happened here. And that is good.

As I wrote before the season following Max Domi‘s laughable preseason suspension, the whole point of the Department of Player Safety isn’t supposed to be to get a pound of flesh from a player for injuring an opponent or doing something dirty; It should be to get players to stop doing the things that result in suspensions and change the bad behavior, eliminating the plays that do result in avoidable injuries.

If more players took the mindset that Matheson did here (a willingness to understand the decision, and acknowledging that it looks bad, and probably is bad, and perhaps has a willingness to change it in the future) it might bring the results that the league is — at least in theory —  ultimately hoping for.

Matheson also tried to explain, from his perspective, what exactly happened on the play.

“He’s a skilled player and he makes good plays and you have to respect that,” said Matheson. “When you’re in a battle with somebody you want to play them hard and make sure they can’t beat you back to the net and get good body position on them. There was no point in my frame of mind where I was thinking, ‘oh, I have to injure this guy.’ It was part of the game, it was just a hockey play where I think the fact I went into the boards stick on puck and my stick kind of got stuck in there, propped him up a bit too much, and that’s probably what led to what happened afterwards. It’s not like I put my stick in there to put him up and push him down. If people think that’s whats going on in mind when trying to play the game of hockey then that’s pretty foolish.”

He also added that he reached out to Pettersson in the days following the incident and that Petterson thanked him for reaching out.

In the end, no matter why he did it, what was going through his mind, or how it happened, it was still a dangerous play, an unnecessary play, and a play that knocked an opponent out of the lineup.

That is absolutely deserving of a suspension.

Matheson is free to be disappointed with it and the perception about it, especially if he’s sincere in his comments here.

But it’s even more important that he gets it and understands it.

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Kyle Palmieri, the other forward Ray Shero stole for the Devils

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When the New Jersey Devils hired Ray Shero to be their new general manager back in 2015 he was facing a rather daunting task of rebuilding what was, at the time, one of the league’s dullest teams. It was not a totally lousy team, but it was not a particularly good one, either.

It was coming off of its third consecutive non-playoff season, it seemed to have zero impact players anywhere in the organization (nobody had scored more than 45 points at the NHL level the year before), and it just seemed to be a team going nowhere.

In the years that followed Shero has rebuilt the Devils into a playoff team thanks in large part to a couple of significant trades (and a little luck in the draft lottery), with the most significant of those deals being the one that brought them Taylor Hall, the 2017-18 NHL MVP, from the Edmonton Oilers in exchange for defenseman Adam Larsson.

In terms of one-for-one trades it has turned out to be one of the most lopsided deals in recent NHL memory and has completely altered the direction of the Devils’ franchise.

It was not the only Shero trade that has gone in the Devils’ favor by an overwhelming margin.

One of his first moves with the Devils was to acquire Kyle Palmieri from the Anaheim Ducks in exchange for a second-round draft pick in 2015 and a third-round draft pick in 2016. It, too, has turned out to be a steal.

At the time, Palmieri was coming off of his age 23 season and even though his overall numbers didn’t exactly jump off the page at you, he had flashed some legitimate top-line potential during his limited with the Ducks. He was consistently scoring at a15-goal pace over 82 games even though he was only playing between 11 and 14 minutes per night.

On a per minute basis he was one of the team’s most productive goal-scorers and seemed to be the type of player that was worth giving an increased role. As soon as he arrived in New Jersey he received that increased role and immediately broke out with a 30-goal season, earning himself a five-year, $23.25 million contract extension.

He has not stopped producing since.

So far this season he has been one of the driving forces behind the Devils’ 4-0-0 start, having already scored seven goals. That includes three consecutive two-goal games to open the season, and at least one goal in every game the team has played.

While there is an element of luck and circumstance to that start — including a 38.9 percent shooting percentage and the fact four of those goals have come on the power play — he has certainly established himself as a legitimate top-line player with the Devils.

The production speaks for itself. In his first three full seasons with the Devils he has scored at least 24 goals every year, while his .357 goals per game average comes out to a 30-goal pace over 82 games.

Keep in mind he scored 24 goals in only 62 games a season ago which was, once again, a 30-goal pace.

He may not be on quite the same level as Hall or get as much attention, but he has still be a significant addition to the organization, especially when you consider how little the Devils had to give up to get him.

Even if you ignore his ridiculously fast start this season he has been one of the most productive wingers in the NHL since joining the Devils.

Between 2015-16 and 2017-18 his .357 goals per game average was 32nd among all forwards in the league, and placed him directly between Max Pacioretty and Artemi Panarin, and ahead of notable players like Jack Eichel, Joe Pavelski, James Neal, and Phil Kessel.

He is one of just 20 players in the league to score at least 24 goals in each of those seasons, and one of only 30 to average a 30-goal and 55-point pace over 82 games.

By pretty much every objective measure he has been one of the top-30 most productive forwards in the NHL since arriving in New Jersey. And all they had to give up was two draft picks that will probably never be as good as he is.

Going back to last season the Devils have found a pretty spectacular top line with him, Hall, and 2017 No. 1 overall pick Nico Hischier, a trio that has spent more than 350 minutes of ice-time together at 5-on-5 play and been nothing short of dominant.

During that time the Devils have controlled more than 53 percent of the shot attempts and outscored teams by a 23-11 margin.

All of them have been difference-makers for the Devils.

All they needed to acquire them was an okay second-pairing defenseman (for Hall), what amounted to two long-shot lottery tickets (for Palmieri), and a little luck from some lottery balls (Hischier).

Given where the Devils were at when Shero took over he need to pull off a little bit of magic to find some impact players and turn the team around. He somehow managed to do it twice without giving up anything of significance.

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

 

‘It’s just a matter of time’ for Sidney Crosby to get going offensively

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PITTSBURGH — When you think of Sidney Crosby at his absolute best, you probably think of him as more of a playmaker and puck distributor, making his wingers better and more productive and making defenders look completely helpless along the walls or below the goal line because, well, that is what he does best.

All of that has made his ability as a goal scorer probably one of his more underrated skills, and it seems easy to forget that not only has he been a dominant goal scorer throughout his career (he is 37th all-time in goals per game and fourth among active players and players that started their careers after 1995 — the beginning of the “dead puck era”) but that he has actually finished as the league’s leading goal-scorer on two different occasions, something only 24 players in league history have done (and only 11 in the post-Original Six era). In short, on top of everything else he’s a pretty darn good goal scorer, too.

But like every other great goal scorer he is not immune to the occasional drought, and he has hit one at the start of the 2018-19 season by going the first five games without finding the back of the net. While he has had his share of slower starts throughout his career, this is only the third time in 14 years that he has gone at least five games to open a season without scoring a goal, with the 2008-09 and 2015-16 seasons being the other two.

(The 2015-16 season was the year he opened the season without a point of any kind in five games and only tallied a point in nine of his first 10 games.)

Even though the chances are starting to present themselves, the results have not yet followed.

One of the big problems has been the shots that he is taking aren’t actually getting to the net, let alone in the net. Of Crosby’s 24 total shot attempts so far only 12 have actually been on goal. Small sample size that it is, that is still only 50 percent. Just for comparisons sake, over the past five years he has managed to get more than 60 percent of his total attempts on goal. Can’t score if the puck isn’t hitting the target.

In the first period of Tuesday’s 3-2 overtime loss to the Vancouver Canucks he had a good look in the first period only to have Bo Horvat block it, and he had a similar miss during Saturday’s overtime loss to the Montreal Canadiens.

Those near-misses have been happening to him so far this season.

“I thought he had some grade ‘A’ chances tonight,” Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said on Tuesday night. “He had a couple of real high-quality chances. He seemed to have a few in the last couple of games. The pucks just won’t seem to go in the net for him right now. He’s too good a player to keep off the scoresheet. I think it’s a matter of time we just have to stay with it. Just like our team, I think one of the things we are trying to encourage Sid to do is shoot the puck a little more and simplify his game. He’s just too good of a player to not break out of this. We just have to stay with it, keep working through it and not get discouraged. I think once he gets that first one things will start going in for him.”

The Penguins have tried a couple of things to get him going, from shaking up his linemates and dropping Patric Hornqvist to the third line and moving Derick Brassard, a natural center, up to the wing alongside Crosby and Jake Guentzel, to a sit-down chat and film study session between him and head coach Mike Sullivan.

So what did Sullivan and Crosby take out of that meeting, and what does the coach want to see?

More of what makes Crosby at his best: Working below the hashmarks, hanging on to pucks, and wearing defenders down.

“When Sid is at his very best, I think he’s the best player in the game underneath the hashmarks. He might be the best player that ever played underneath the hashmarks. He’s that good with the way he protects pucks and creates offense from below the goal line. We have high expectations when it comes to that aspect of his game, and his line’s game for that matter. He tends to thrive with players that are good in those areas.”

He continued: “Sid and I sat in my office yesterday after practice and we looked at a lot of the offensive zone stuff. He is such a student of the game, it sometimes gives you another vantage point. It’s a great learning opportunity to watch yourself in those situations. One of the things that I think came out of the conversation was just hanging onto pucks a little bit more. Sid is such a physically fit guy, he can wear players down by hanging onto pucks, and when they get tired, he doesn’t. He tends to have another gear because he’s so physically fit, and a lot of times that gives him a huge competitive advantage, so the longer he hangs on to pucks, and the longer his line hangs onto pucks, I think it’s a huge advantage for us, so we are trying to encourage all of our guys to force our opponents to have to defend us a little bit more.”

The Penguins haven’t yet found their game yet as a team, and that includes Crosby and the top line.

But Sullivan is right; Crosby is too good to get held off the scoresheet forever, and history does indicate that once he does get that first goal he probably will go on a run where he looks unstoppable. He followed up his five-game drought in 2008-09 with a three goal in four game stretch (that included nine total points) and when he finally got rolling in the second half of the 2015-16 season he helped carry the team to a championship.

We sometimes overreact to outlier performances at the start of a season because there is nothing else around them for any sort of perspective. You see a zero next to a player like Sidney Crosby’s name for a few games more games than you are used to and it seems like a big deal. And while there are definitely areas he and his linemates need to be better in, it’s also not something to be too overly concerned with.

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.