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Crosby's zeal leads to defensive excellence

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Crosby's zeal leads to defensive excellence
Sidney Crosby is noted for great offensive hockey, but those around the Penguins are equally impressed with his defensive game.
KANATA, Ont. -- When most young, offensive-minded players come into the NHL, the knock on them is defensive responsibility, mostly because defense is something they never were asked to play.

In the case of Sidney Crosby, the best defense he played growing up was putting the puck in the other team's net, which he did so frequently, he was a plus-127 in his two seasons of junior hockey with the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League's Rimouski Oceanic.

But when Crosby got to the NHL, he had to learn the fine art of playing in his own zone. It wasn't an easy hill to climb, but when Crosby sets his mind to something, he usually accomplishes it.

"Sid and (Evgeni Malkin), they could be Selke Trophy winners if that's the trophy they wanted to win," coach Dan Bylsma said.

After finishing minus-1 as a rookie, Crosby has been a plus player every season since, including a plus-15 in 2009-10. He's a plus-4 so far in these playoffs, but what stands out are his five takeaways in three games, the second-most in the League. He had three in Game 3, with a pair leading to goals. He took the puck off Andy Sutton in the Ottawa end to score what turned into the game-winning goal in the final minute of the second period, and he stripped the puck from Nick Foligno in the Pittsburgh end, which set up Bill Guerin's breakaway goal in the third.

"You see it a handful of times in (Sunday's) game, where he goes into a puck battle, wins the puck battle and makes a play to get out of the (defensive) zone," Bylsma said. "That's a big aspect of minimizing a team's ability to be effective against you. You've seen that a lot from Crosby in these three games, where he's been able to play effectively defensively and be a factor."

For Crosby, it's just another piece of the evolution of his game, whether it's getting stronger on his skates, being better on faceoffs, or turning into a 50-goal scorer.

"You're always trying to adjust and find ways (to be better)," Crosby said. "Whether it's speed or making the right plays and being smart defensively, whatever it is, you have to find ways to still help and not always … create chances all the time offensively. You still have to be solid in other areas.
That's what I've tried to do."

His teammates certainly have noticed. Jordan Staal agreed with his coach that Crosby could be a Selke candidate.

"He's all in," Pascal Dupuis told NHL.com. "He wants to win and he's going to do everything to win. It starts in the defensive zone. I don't think you can have a better two-way center. You see his ability offensively, but in his own end … he knows if he's in his own zone he's not going to score a goal, so he's trying to get out of there as soon as possible."

Veteran defenseman Jay McKee said for a young forward -- especially one who never really was asked to play that way -- learning the defensive side of the game is a question of pride and commitment. And from what he's seen in his first season in Pittsburgh, Crosby has both by the bucket-load.

"This is my first year, so I haven't seen Sid's progression defensively, but I can just speak of what I've seen this year, and he's been exceptional," McKee said. "The defensive side of the game for a forward is the toughest part to grasp, especially when you're born with the offensive instincts and talent that he has."

Dupuis said Crosby's defensive commitment rubs off on teammates. If they see the team's captain and best player working along the walls and in corners to dig pucks out in his own zone, there's no reason they can't do the same.

"He wears the 'C,' " Dupuis said. "He's our leader. He's proud of his game. He's proud of what he's accomplishing out there. He's leading the way. He's showing everybody that he's leading the way."

Contact Adam Kimelman at akimelman@nhl.com


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