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

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.

Bruins win Game 3 without Rask, Pastrnak; Hurricanes lose, Svechnikov injured

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Heading into Game 3, the news was really bad for the Bruins. Heading out of a 3-1 win for the Bruins, who took a 2-1 series lead, the bad news swung against the Hurricanes in a big way.

[Read up on Tuukka Rask opting out of the NHL bubble.]

Halak was brilliant — except for a blunder — in helping Bruins beat Hurricanes in Game 3

For those of us familiar with Jaroslav Halak‘s career — not just that incredible 2010 Stanley Cup Playoffs run, but that too — it was hard not to belt out a “the other guy’s pretty good” when word surfaced that Rask opted out.

Aside from a disastrous puckhandling/passing moment that opened the door for a Nino Niederreiter power-play goal, Halak was nearly perfect in Game 3. Halak made 29 out of 30 saves in this big win. While Petr Mrazek was fine, it’s fair to wonder if the Hurricanes might turn to James Reimer, who helped Carolina win Game 2.

Here’s that blunder by Halak, which again ended up being an aberration:

Hurricanes lose game, Svechnikov might be injured

Looking back at Game 3, and looking forward at the rest of this First Round series, the Hurricanes must feel a mixture of regret and concern.

When it comes to regret, the Hurricanes must rue some special teams setbacks. While both teams went 1-for-5 on their power plays, the Bruins scored the game-winner shorthanded. It’s also tough to stomach when you realize that Carolina’s lone goal mainly boiled down to Halak’s gaffe.

Of course, there were also some moments that might tempt Rod Brind’Amour to get fined again. In particular, a missed high stick to Dougie Hamilton‘s face left Hurricanes fans fuming.

But the biggest concern is going forward. Late in Game 3, Andrei Svechnikov appeared to suffer a knee injury getting tangled up with Zdeno Chara. While it’s too early to tell how severe the issue might be, Svechnikov needed help off of the ice.

The Bruins showed that they could win without David Pastrnak and Rask, and maybe Carolina can do the same without its budding star. It’s pretty painful when you combine it with narrowly losing Game 3, though.

Charlie Coyle played well in Game 3, scoring a goal and an assist. Also, David Krejci turned some heads with some sharp passing, finishing Game 3 with two assists. Brad Marchand inflated the margin of victory with an empty-netter.

After being outshot 15-7 in the first period, the Bruins ended up with a 39-30 shots on goal advantage. That sure seems like a strong response to losing key players, and supporting Halak.

No. 4 Boston Bruins vs. No. 5 Carolina Hurricanes (BOS leads 2-1)

Wednesday, Aug. 12: Bruins 4, Hurricanes 3 (2OT) (recap)
Thursday, Aug. 13:Hurricanes 3, Bruins 2 (recap)
Saturday, Aug. 15: Boston 3, Carolina 1
Monday, Aug. 17: Boston at Carolina, 8 p.m. ET – NBCSN
*Wednesday, Aug. 19: Carolina at Boston – TBD
*Thursday, Aug. 20: Boston at Carolina – TBD
*Sunday, Aug. 23: Carolina at Boston – TBD

*if necessary

MORE:
• Stanley Cup Playoffs First Round schedule

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Coyotes-Avalanche stream: 2020 NHL Stanley Cup First Round

Coyotes-Avalanche stream
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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs continues with Friday’s First Round matchup between the Coyotes and Avalanche. Coverage begins at 3 p.m. ET on CNBC. Watch the Coyotes-Avalanche stream at 2 p.m. ET on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

When you look at effort alone, the Coyotes presented a night-and-day difference between their play in Game 1 (passive, bad) and Game 2 (aggressive, good). Unfortunately for Arizona, the Avalanche are also aggressive and good, and they were able to squeeze out a win.

With that, the Coyotes find themselves down 2-0 heading into Game 3. The two teams played a physical, close game on Friday, so it will be interesting to see how the Avs and Coyotes perform during this back-to-back.

Could the fatigue factor benefit the defense-minded Coyotes? Maybe the Avalanche can burst out of the gate in Game 3 and leave the Coyotes feeling less than confident? So far, Nathan MacKinnon has been deadly, while Nazem Kadri has been clutch. Meanwhile, time is running out for Taylor Hall and the Coyotes. It could be a short series if Arizona can’t get it done in this one.

WHAT: Arizona Coyotes vs. Colorado Avalanche
WHERE: Rogers Place – Edmonton
WHEN: Saturday, August 15, 3 p.m. ET
TV: CNBC
ON THE CALL: Kenny Albert, Pierre McGuire
LIVE STREAM: You can watch the Coyotes-Avalanche stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.

No. 2 Colorado Avalanche vs. No. 7 Arizona Coyotes (COL leads 2-0)

Wednesday, Aug. 12: Avalanche 3, Coyotes 0 (recap)
Friday, Aug. 14: Avalanche 3, Coyotes 2 (recap)
Saturday, Aug. 15: Colorado at Arizona, 3 p.m. ET – CNBC
Monday, Aug. 17: Colorado at Arizona, 5:30 p.m. ET – NBCSN
*Wednesday, Aug. 19: Arizona at Colorado – TBD
*Friday, Aug. 21: Colorado at Arizona – TBD
*Sunday, Aug. 23: Arizona at Colorado – TBD

*if necessary

MORE:
• Stanley Cup Playoffs First Round schedule

Hurricanes-Bruins stream: 2020 NHL Stanley Cup First Round

No Rask Halak starts Bruins Hurricanes livestream Game 3
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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs continues with Saturday’s First Round matchup between the Hurricanes and Bruins. Coverage begins at 12 p.m. ET on NBC. Watch the Hurricanes-Bruins stream on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

When Tuukka Rask made comments about not being in “prime shape” for the NHL Return to Play, maybe we should have seen it coming. Even so, it was a little startling to hear that Rask opted out of the return to play before Game 3 of Bruins – Hurricanes.

As the reigning Presidents’ Trophy winners, the Bruins were already dealing with turmoil. You don’t often see top seeds fall all the way to fourth place, but then again, sports leagues also don’t often need to navigate global pandemics. If the Bruins are going to go deep in the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs, they clearly need to overcome more than the Hurricanes.

While these are far from ideal circumstances, don’t count the Bruins out altogether. Boston turns to capable backup Jaroslav Halak, who probably could have had a shot at a starting job (or at least a 1A/1B situation) if he didn’t stick with the Bruins.

Being that David Pastrnak missed Game 2, the Bruins are dealing with some tough times. In the Hurricanes, they also face a very tough opponent. We’ll see if Boston can roll with the punches in Game 3 on Saturday afternoon on NBC.

WHAT: Carolina Hurricanes vs. Boston Bruins
WHERE: Scotiabank Arena – Toronto
WHEN: Saturday, August 15 – 12 p.m. ET
TV
: NBC
ON THE CALL: John Forslund, Mike Milbury, Brian Boucher
LIVE STREAM: You can watch the Hurricanes-Bruins stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.

No. 4 Boston Bruins vs. No. 5 Carolina Hurricanes (Series tied 1-1)

Wednesday, Aug. 12: Bruins 4, Hurricanes 3 (2OT) (recap)
Thursday, Aug. 13:Hurricanes 3, Bruins 2 (recap)
Saturday, Aug. 15: Boston at Carolina, 12 p.m ET – NBC
Monday, Aug. 17: Boston at Carolina, 8 p.m. ET – NBCSN
*Wednesday, Aug. 19: Carolina at Boston – TBD
*Thursday, Aug. 20: Boston at Carolina – TBD
*Sunday, Aug. 23: Carolina at Boston – TBD

*if necessary

MORE:
• Stanley Cup Playoffs First Round schedule

Bruins’ Tuukka Rask opts out of NHL return to play

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The Boston Bruins announced on Saturday morning that starting goalie Tuukka Rask has opted out of the NHL’s return to play this postseason and will be leaving the bubble in Toronto.

Rask had started the first two games of their First Round series against the Carolina Hurricanes.

The two teams play in Game 3 of the series on Saturday afternoon (12 p.m. ET, NBC).

[NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

“I want to be with my teammates competing, but at this moment there are things more important than hockey in my life, and that is being with my family. I want to thank the Bruins and my teammates for their support and wish them success,” said Rask in a statement released by the team.

Bruins general manager Don Sweeney said on a conference call that the team “completely” understands where Rask is coming from in his decision to opt out, and that the organization fully supports his decision, why he made it, and is not totally surprised by it.

Sweeney pointed out that Rask has three children at home, including a newborn daughter and that family has to be the priority. He also added that Rask’s family is safe and healthy and that there was no specific incident that resulted in him opting out, other than that he was having a difficult time being away in this environment.

With Rask now leaving the bubble, Jaroslav Halak will take over the starting goaltending duties for the Bruins.

Halak started one game for the Bruins in the Round-Robin phase, stopping 25 out of 29 shots in a loss to the Philadelphia Flyers. He appeared in 31 games during the regular season, posting an 18-6-6 record with a .919 save percentage.

No. 4 Boston Bruins vs. No. 5 Carolina Hurricanes (Series tied 1-1)

Wednesday, Aug. 12: Bruins 4, Hurricanes 3 (2OT) (recap)
Thursday, Aug. 13: Hurricanes 3, Bruins 2 (recap)
Saturday, Aug. 15: Boston at Carolina, 12 p.m ET – NBC
Monday, Aug. 17: Boston at Carolina, 8 p.m. ET – NBCSN
Wednesday, Aug. 19: Carolina at Boston – TBD
*Thursday, Aug. 20: Boston at Carolina – TBD
*Sunday, Aug. 23: Carolina at Boston – TBD

*if necessary

MORE:
• Stanley Cup Playoffs First Round 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.