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Fantasy Friday: Can Crosby turn season around?

by Matt Cubeta / NHL.com

How steep are the odds that star forward Sidney Crosby can repeat the 84 points he posted last year? He would need to produce 65 points across the final 52 games of the Pittsburgh Penguins season.

That's 1.25 points per game from now until the end of the regular season. Prior to this season Crosby had averaged 1.36 points-per-game during the course of his career. With that rate of production, it's not unrealistic to believe he can get to or even surpass that 84-point total he had last season.

Or is it?

Last season, Crosby had 84 points in 77 games, or 1.09 points-per-game, the lowest production rate of his 11-year career. While the struggles are clearly more extreme this season, he wasn't exactly the same player we had gotten used to last season either. Yes, his 84 points were good for third most in the NHL, but Crosby was coming off a 104-point season in 2013-14 and expectations were sky-high. He didn't deliver what we hoped for despite finishing as the fifth-best player in Yahoo fantasy leagues.

This season Crosby has six goals and 13 assists through 30 games. With an average draft position of No. 2 in Yahoo leagues, Crosby currently ranks No. 138 in fantasy production. This is easily the worst start to his career despite still being considered to be in a prime age season at 28.

Not only has his point production been lacking, but Crosby also has disappointed in the plus/minus and shots-on-goal categories. The Penguins forward has a minus-7 rating. The last time he finished a season with a minus rating was his rookie season (2005-06) when he finished minus-1. As for his shots on goal, he's averaging just 2.87 shots on goal per game after averaging 3.33 shots-per-game for the previous 10 seasons. The only category where he's been relatively helpful is in power-play points, where he has eight.

Where does the blame lie, and will he be able to turn his season around and deliver something close to what fantasy owners expected when they drafted him? Let's try and find out ...

LINE COMBINATIONS

Crosby has seen linemates get shuffled in and out around him throughout the season. According to dobberhockey.com, his most frequent even-strength line combination this season has been with Patric Hornqvist and Pascal Dupuis (who retired last week because of medical issues) at 20.09 percent. The combination of Chris Kunitz and Phil Kesel accounts for 14.57 percent of his even-strength time. Those are not high numbers.

To put it in perspective, Anze Kopitar, the Los Angeles Kings' No. 1 center has spent 25.32 percent of his ice time with the same linemates this season; Boston Bruins top center Patrice Bergeron has been with the same group for 31.03 percent of his even-strength shifts; Ryan Getzlaf, the No. 1 center of the Anaheim Ducks, has spent 36.63 percent of his time with the same group; and Tyler Seguin of the Dallas Stars has spent 42.44 percent of his ice time with the same linemates.

A little consistency might do Crosby some good. New coach Mike Sullivan took over two games ago and in his first game behind the bench, he had Crosby centering a line with Chris Kunitz and Beau Bennett. Unfortunately Bennett left that game with an injury, which forced more line juggling. In Sullivan's second game, against the Bruins on Wednesday, Crosby spent 63.73 percent of his even strength ice time with Kunitz and David Perron on his wings. This could be a good sign and hopefully Sullivan attempts to stick with the same group allowing them to potentially build chemistry.

PUCK POSSESSION

Crosby's SAT% (Shot Attempts Percentage) is currently 47.51. That ranks 15th on the Penguins among players that have played in at least 10 games this season. Last season, Crosby was at 56.20 percent, a very strong number. Crosby is not possessing the puck nearly as often as he has in the past.

As we all know, Crosby is the kind of player capable of taking over a game and making constant impacts when on the ice. That hasn't been the case this season. The fact that he's a minus-43 in Shot Attempts (Total Shot Attempts For vs. Total Shot Attempts Against) goes to show just how much he's struggling this season.

In order to change these possession numbers, Crosby needs to be in control more frequently. And that starts in your own zone. When the Penguins defensemen are coming out of the zone, they need to find Crosby breaking out and let him dictate the play as the team enters the offensive zone. Crosby is the creator and the catalyst. His teammates need to get him the puck more. It's not just that, though. Crosby also has to raise his battle levels and go to the net more frequently. Good things happen around the net and he simply doesn't spend enough time in the dirty areas.

CONCLUSION

If Sullivan gives Crosby the opportunity to find stable linemates, if his teammates look to get him the puck more frequently and if he can raise his battle level, it's possible Crosby can turn his season around.

But 30 games into the 2015-16 season we have seen none of these things happen. If fantasy owners are looking for the old Crosby to show up, they might be disappointed. Crosby put together a three-point effort back on Oct. 20, but outside of that game, he's only recorded at least two points in three other games all season. He's been held without a point in 17 of his 30 games, which is unheard of during his career.

Trading Crosby might not be the worst idea.

Of course, having seen what Chicago Blackhawks forward Patrick Kane did with his 26-game point-scoring streak this season, it reminds us of what Crosby is capable of doing. During the 2010-11 season, Crosby had a 25-game point-scoring streak in which he totaled 26 goals and 24 assists for 50 points. While he might not be able to deliver a streak quite like that, it is completely realistic to think Crosby can record 65 more points in his final 52 games this season. If it's me, I'm sticking with Crosby. I believe he's simply too good not to turn things around and go on a massive hot streak. You drafted him with your first-round pick for a reason and I'd want to play that out. But the decision is yours.

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