Remember earlier this season when there was some concern that Sidney Crosby had lost his scoring touch?
Yes, from Oct. 31 through Nov. 10, a five-game span, Crosby was scoreless, nary a goal nor an assist. Egads! What was happening? Was the sky falling? Was this called for in the Mayan calendar?
All worries can now be put aside. Crosby not only has "rediscovered" his scoring touch, but he may well break the marks for offensive excellence we have come to expect from No. 87.
Following a 4-point night against the Sabres Monday, which included his third hat trick of the season, Crosby now has 37 goals for the season, tying him with San Jose's Patrick Marleau for the NHL lead. That puts Crosby just 2 goals behind his career mark of 39 goals set in 2005-06. He also has 34 assists in 56 games this season, so another 100-point season seems assured.
Taking talk to heart
Don't let it ever be said that Sidney Crosby doesn't listen. You'll never convince Pittsburgh Penguins coach Dan Bylsma of that. Bylsma recalls talking to Crosby last summer about making shooting more one of his goals for 2009-10.
"We had a conversation not too long after our season ended last year," Bylsma recalled. "He'd already made plans to start working on his shot more, and was focused on that aspect -- thought he could do a better job of shooting the puck.
"I think you see that mind set if you watch his games. He shoots more pucks from areas that aren't Grade 'A' scoring opportunities," Bylsma told NHL.com's Todd Kimberley. "Before, he would look to pass first, pass second, and shoot when he got in the 10-foot area. Now, he's looking to shoot well outside those areas, looking to shoot for rebounds, looking to shoot through traffic, looking to shoot behind defensemen.
"That's something you didn't see from him before as a player. It makes him more dangerous, as well as the people around him."
Bylsma praises Crosby for making the change — and for his captain's process of self-reflection and self-improvement.
"It's a way of living life that people who continue to get better, and get the most out of themselves, have," he said. "You don't see too many great players, great people in their chosen fields, who don't have a similar type of mindset."
-- Phil Coffey
Crosby's hat trick against the Sabres, one of the NHL's top defensive teams by the way, continues a stretch where he has scored 13 goals and 21 points in 13 games. He is the first Penguin since Alex Kovalev in 2001-02 to have three hat tricks in a season.
Why all the goals? Boiled down to its simplest essence, Crosby is shooting the puck more. He already has 211 shots and should easily surpass the total of 238 he had last season and could surpass his career high of 278 set during his rookie season, 2005-06.
"I'm definitely trying to shoot the puck more," Crosby told NHL.com's Todd Kimberley. "Not carelessly -- but trying to create something off of that. You tend to shoot more when you know you have guys going to the net.
"As an offensive player when you know you've got guys going to the net and driving hard, you're going to shoot more because you know that you'll get opportunities there."
And as Wayne Gretzky once pointed out, you don't score on 100 percent of the shots you don't take. It also helps that as shots have found the back of the net, his confidence has burgeoned, helping him take more shots from different areas of the ice.
"I feel like I can score outside a little more than in the past, and that comes with seeing good results ... any offensive player will tell you that you build confidence the more you see the puck go in, and from different areas as well. You need to have a sense of confidence if you want to score consistently."
But don't be misled into thinking Crosby is putting himself above the team. Far from it, in fact. Take the win over Buffalo as an example. Crosby had turned the puck over early in the second period, leading to a goal that gave the Sabres a 3-1 lead. He was angry about the mistake and then took the game on his shoulder, but not before having a word with goalie Marc-Andre Fleury.
"I just said 'I'm sorry, that was my fault,'" Crosby told Jason Seidling of the team's Web site. "I'm sure that is not the first time I have said that to him and I'm sure that won't be the last. Sometimes it works out that way. … I think we were pretty happy with how things turned out."
Next up, his hat trick, an assist on another goal and a 5-4 victory.
"You start to see how much of a threat he is with his shots – not just taking more shots," coach Dan Bylsma said. "You or I can get more shots and it's not much of a threat as he is right now."
"The game kind of opened up in the second and third period, which is kind of a rare thing," Crosby said. "When you have two teams who can skate like that I think it is only natural to get your defensemen in on the rush. Depending on the kind of bounces you get and the decisions you make, it can make for some open hockey."
"I don't know if he's getting better, but he's taking advantage of the opportunities we gave him," the Sabres' Tim Kennedy said of Crosby. "When you give a guy an open net and give a guy a 2-on-1 and then a power play, guys like that aren't going to miss those opportunities. That's on us. He is one of the best players in the game, but I think that we gave him a lot."
I spent a long summer thinking about that playoff series and what could have been. [The Blackhawks] ended up being the Stanley Cup champions, so we know we lost to a very good team. It's tough to know how close we were, and it motivates us for this year.
— Nashville captain Shea Weber in an interview with the Predators website