Crosby one-upped himself in Year Two, becoming the youngest scoring champion in league history, capturing both the Hart Trophy and Lester B. Pearson Award, and being named the youngest captain in league history (19 years, nine months) immediately following the season.
By Year Four, he became the youngest captain to lead his team to a Stanley Cup championship.
Despite all this success, there was still one area of his game not on par with the others, and Crosby’s hard work and determination has made that deficiency another strength in a bag of tools overflowing with such already.Sidney Crosby
’s transformation into faceoff-man extraordinaire began during the Penguins’ opening round defeat of the Philadelphia Flyers. In that series Crosby won more often than he lost in each of the six games, including a 12-4 (75%) mark in Game 1. Crosby also dominated on draws in the third round against Carolina, going 56-43 (57%) over the four games.
One of the immediate rewards the Penguins were able to reap from Crosby’s development between the circles was in overtime of Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals against the Capitals when his faceoff win led directly to Kris Letang
’s winning score.
Head coach Dan Bylsma mentioned that players such as Crosby, Evgeni Malkin
and Jordan Staal
learned a ton of nuances on the dots from Penguins assistant to the general manager Tom Fitzgerald, who served as an interim assistant coach throughout the end of the last year’s regular season and playoffs. Fitzgerald, who spent 17 years in the NHL, was a top faceoff man during his career.
“He spent most days working with the forwards and centermen, talking about the details, talking about different moves, working on A, B and C moves, going against a lefty or a righty, different scenarios that are there,” Bylsma said. “As a result I think our centermen are more equipped to deal with different scenarios on the ice, going against a lefty or a righty and having a couple different moves to use to win a draw.”
Success on the draw came gradually for Crosby, which is natural for any young player, according to Bylsma.
“We’ve thought that we would get better as we got older and more mature,” Bylsma said. “It’s easier to be good when you’re 21 or 22 years old. It’s tough to be good when you’re 18.”
Crosby’s faceoff percentages went up three-consecutive seasons from 45.5 percent as a rookie in 2005-06 to 49.8 percent in ’06-07 and 51.4 percent in ’07-08. His numbers held steady through last season, as Crosby won 51.3 percent of his draws.
He’s been working on them for four years, pretty religiously and pretty hard at it. The numbers have gotten better and now you’re seeing a guy show that he can be outstanding in the faceoff circle. That didn’t happen over night. That’s a result of paying attention to detail and working at it over the course of a few years. The results are showing up. - Dan Bylsma
Now in his fifth season at age 22, Crosby ranks among the league leaders in the early going with a success rate of 65.2 percent, four-best mark in the league through Sunday’s games, winning 73 of 112 draws. Crosby’s 73 faceoff wins are 16 more than the next closest player, Edmonton center Shawn Horcoff with 57.
In typical Crosby fashion, he was quick to praise his teammates for their help in his registering such a gaudy figure.
“Not a lot of people realize how important it is for the guys around you to help out,” Crosby said. “You have to lean on those guys to help you out sometimes. As long as everyone is aware going into the faceoff circle that you really want to get possession, that’s something that usually helps.”
Crosby has been especially effective in the past two Penguins’ victories, as they have started out 2-0 on this four-game road swing. In the 5-4 victory over the Flyers last Thursday, Crosby went 21-3 (88%) on draws, setting a new single-game high in wins and winning percentage. Two nights later, Crosby went 17-8 (68%) against the Toronto Maple Leafs in a 5-2 win.
That has to be a scary proposition for the rest of the National Hockey League – one of its brightest stars finding another way to contribute to the score sheet in addition to his brilliance with the puck on his stick in open space. Crosby’s rise to the top of the league’s faceoff charts gives opponents yet another reason to fear facing one the league’s brightest overall talents.
“You go through stretches that are better than others,” Crosby described of his early-season faceoff dominance. “You always gain confidence the more you win and stick with things. Lately I’ve been able to win some. I’ve been trying to focus on that and keep improving there. Hopefully it keeps going the same way.”
Crosby’s improvement on faceoffs is on par with the career evolution of several of the game’s other top centers.
Detroit’s duo of Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg, along with the San Jose Sharks Joe Thornton, each saw similar jumps to the one Crosby is experiencing this season.
Datsyuk went from a success rate of 47.7 his rookie season to 48.2 percent in year No. 2, before his numbers took off to the tune of a 54.0 success rate in 2003-04, his third in the league.
Zetterberg won only 46.1 percent of the draws he took as a rookie in 2002-03 before quickly watching his numbers rise to 55 percent in his fifth season, the same year this is for Crosby.
Thornton won less than 50 percent of his draws in each of his first three campaigns before breaking through and winning 52.1 percent in his fourth year. Now, he routinely checks in around 52-55 percent at the end of the season.
Bylsma finds it rewarding to watch such a tireless worker as Crosby find success in an area where the Penguins captain has spent numerous extra minutes honing one of the last few “weaknesses” to his game.
“For faceoffs, he’s been working on them for four years, pretty religiously and pretty hard at it,” Bylsma said. “The numbers have gotten better and now you’re seeing a guy show that he can be outstanding in the faceoff circle. That didn’t happen over night. That’s a result of paying attention to detail and working at it over the course of a few years. The results are showing up.”