"We're talking about a game of mistakes," the Pittsburgh Penguins coach said Tuesday at the team's suburban practice facility, just hours removed a 3-2 victory against the Carolina Hurricanes in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals. "Every game, you try to focus on things that you do well, but there're always plays you have in your head you can do better.
" 'Perfect' is never how I describe a hockey game or a hockey player."
Perhaps "perfect" is too lofty a title for the 21-year-old Penguins captain. But it is certainly a worthwhile pursuit for Crosby, who staked his claim to being the best player in hockey after out-dueling Washington's Alexander Ovechkin -- the likely regular-season MVP -- in the last round of the playoffs.
What makes Crosby so good in Bylsma's opinion?
"He's a guy who continually is trying to add in a lot of different areas," Bylsma said. "He's not just trying to score points. He's not just trying to lead the League in goals or assists. He wants to win. And he wants to compete and he works on things like faceoffs. He works on different parts of his game so he can keep improving."
Last season, Crosby tasted what success could be like. He won two games in the Stanley Cup Final before Detroit won the race to four victories and guzzled champagne from the Stanley Cup right in Crosby's own house, Mellon Arena.
It was such a jarring experience that Crosby realized he had to be better, but not in a points-producing way. His team has enough offensive producers. Crosby would need to adjust his game to be the type of player that carries a team on his shoulders to the Promised Land.
Crosby would have to be better defensively. He would have to be better in the faceoff circle. He needed to be more patient and learn to take what the other team was willing to give him, not force what he wanted.
Crosby has done all those things as Pittsburgh sits three wins from advancing to the Cup Final -- and a shot at redemption -- for the second straight spring.
Amazingly, Crosby found that changing wasn't all that hard. In its own way, it was rewarding and, dare we say it, enjoyable.
"It's part of playing the game, part of learning and adjusting," Crosby says. "That's the fun part of the job; you have to find ways to be successful. There's different ways to do it, but that is the fun part."
Bill Guerin was added to this team in late February. A grizzled veteran with more than a few miles on him and a coterie of former teammates who are either in the Hall of Fame or knocking on the door. Guerin had no idea what to expect from Crosby.
Now, you can count Guerin among the acolytes.
"There is something about him that sets him aside and I think it is his mental approach to the game," Guerin said before Monday's game. "He's there every single day with the same frame of mind. Not to say that it has all been smooth for him, because it hasn't; but he's just done a great job with all the pressure he has had on him."
Monday's performance, says Bylsma, is a perfect example of the transition Crosby has made in the past 12 months. Crosby was suffocated at times by Carolina's quick, puck-suffocating defense, but he didn't force things, not even after putting up eight goals in the last round against Washington.
Instead, Crosby concentrated on passing to teammates as the 'Canes collapsed on him. He also worked at his defensive-zone game to help counter a Matt Cullen-led line that was buzzing the Pittsburgh zone on a pretty regular basis.
Bylsma points to the shift Crosby took after Miroslav Satan scored to make it 1-0 in Pittsburgh's favor. Crosby chipped the puck into the attacking zone instead of trying to navigate the Carolina blockade at the blue line. Then, he barreled in and chased down his own dump-in to create some attack-zone possession before heading back to the bench. Evgeni Malkin
hopped over the boards as Crosby's replacement and put the puck in the net after a few seconds, continuing the pressure Crosby had initiated.
"His answer to the scrutiny about getting goals and so forth is his decision on how he's played without the puck, how he's played a team game," Bylsma said, dismissing concerns that Crosby was held to just two shots and one assist -- albeit on Philippe Boucher's power-play goal that proved to be the game-winner. "Chipping the puck in, going to the forecheck, getting the hit, continuing what we're trying to accomplish as a team, to me he did that again last night in a lot of different areas.
"On faceoffs, he was good again. His power-play execution was good again. He continues to set an example for a line and for a team; that's the way we need him to play."
Author: Shawn P. Roarke | NHL.com Managing Editor