Marian Gaborik led the National Hockey League with 19 goals and Joe Thornton was on top of the leader board with 36 points heading into Saturday night. Neither might last much longer at the top the way Sidney Crosby
has begun to catch fire.
Crosby led the way in the Penguins’ 8-3 victory over the New York Rangers on Saturday night with his second hat trick of the season and two assists for the first five-point performance of his career and best showing since a six-point (1G-5A) night against the Philadelphia Flyers on Dec. 13, 2006.
Head coach Dan Bylsma began the game using Crosby at center between Evgeni Malkin
and Bill Guerin, and placing the two superstars together foreshadowed the long night the duo for the Rangers and their netminder Steve Valiquette, who was giving No. 1 goaltender Henrik Lundqvist the night off.
Crosby and Malkin played only a handful of even-strength shifts together, but when they did, it seemed as if the result was Valiquette fishing the rubber from out of his cage.
“We played a couple of shifts together and we played well on them,” Malkin said. “I like playing with Sid. We played well on the power play together. He is a great player and he makes the game easier playing with him.”
New York struck for the opening tally but that was about the only highlight for them on this night as the “Crosby Show” gained steam minutes later when he took a pass from Guerin behind the net and fought off a Rangers defender as he brought the puck to the front of the net. He sent a pass onto the tape of Malkin, who jammed the puck passed Valiquette for the goal.
Malkin and Crosby later teamed up in the final frame when Malkin stole a Valiquette clearing attempt behind the Rangers net and tried a wraparound attempt which glanced off the pad of Valiquette and landed right onto the stick of Crosby. The Penguins captain tickled the back of the twine for the second time despite heavy traffic in the crease.
Crosby finished off his hat trick, the fourth of his career, during a power play with 11:29 remaining in regulation. He took a cross-ice pass from Alex Goligoski, walked to the top of the right circle and unleashed a snap shot over the shoulder of Valiquette. Within seconds Mellon Arena was a sea of baseball caps as many of the promotional hats passed out before the game wound up on the ice surface.
“I thought it was a little weird everybody had the same hat in the rink,” Crosby said. “It was a fun night to do it. It was fun to get a hat trick, especially tonight.”
“It was great,” Malkin said. “There were a lot of hats.”
Crosby’s head coach had a feeling one of his players might be in line for a big night when came into the rink.
“When we walked into the building and I saw the free hats it did cross into my mind that hopefully this means we are going to have a hat trick and see all these things on the ice,” Bylsma said. “I liked why they went on the ice.”
They flew onto the ice because Crosby continued a trend that began in the Stanley Cup playoffs – firing more shots on net. With his five shots against the Rangers, Crosby ranks fifth (tied) overall in total shots with 98 on the season through Saturday’s early games. It is a facet of his game he says he continues to improve upon.
“I think I am probably a little more comfortable using (my shot),” Crosby said. “It has been something I have strived to work on. It is a mentality and something that doesn’t happen overnight. It is something I have worked on.”
As the Penguins have progressed closer to full health over the past two weeks, the play of their captain has also been a huge reason why they have won five of their past six games. In the eight games since Malkin rejoined the lineup against the Boston Bruins, Crosby has registered 13 points (6G-7A), his strongest stretch of games this season. He believes it is no coincidence his game has improved as the opposition now has more weapons to concern themselves with.
“I think if anything, as a team, we get all those lines rolling,” Crosby said. “You get guys who are used to playing in situations such as (Alex) Goligoski on the power play and Tanger (Kris Letang
) in his normal role.
“I think those guys really add to our team. When you put guys into those spots you see us get rolling.”
The way Crosby is rolling right now cannot mean good things for the rest of the NHL. While the Penguins define the word “team” more so than any in the league, the outcome of their games usually mirrors the performance of their captain.
In 2009-10 the Penguins are 14-2 when Crosby records a point, 4-7 when he does not. They haven’t lost a game (9-0) when he scores a goal, and have the same 9-0 mark when Crosby has two or more points.
Crosby’s line with Bill Guerin and Maxime Talbot combined for seven points (4G-3A) against the Rangers. The 22-year-old pivot was pleased with how the trio dominated New York.
“I felt like our line was generating chances. …We all benefitted from one another,” he said. “I thought there was jump there. Our line was creating things. That is what we need. That is how we get success.”
As long as they continue to combine for 10 shots and score points like they did Saturday night the sky is the limit for their line as a whole and Crosby individually. A couple more performances like the one Saturday night and it will be Gaborik and Thornton gazing at Crosby’s name above theirs on the scoring lists.