“That’s probably an odd statement, because he’s been getting goals every night,” head coach Dan Bylsma said following Thursday’s practice.
“But we depend on him to play against other team’s best lines. We depend on him to play in penalty kill situations. We depend on him for faceoffs. It’s playing all over the ice, and he’s doing it against the other team’s top lines. So there’s a lot to his game and a lot of detail to his game, with and without the puck.”
Yes, the Penguins captain is scoring goals at an alarming rate. He now has 26 goals and 50 points through 30 games, and is currently riding a 17-game scoring streak, the league’s longest so far this season and the second-longest of his career
But he’s posting these impressive numbers while being the ultimate two-way player, concentrating on defensive-zone play first before worrying about his offensive game.
A prime example of this came Wednesday in Pittsburgh’s 5-2 victory over Toronto at CONSOL Energy Center.
Forget about the two goals Crosby scored in the win. He won 19-of-26 draws for a 73- percent success rate and patrolled the Penguins’ defensive zone, blocking two shots.
I think the battle level is everything for (Crosby). It’s his competitive spirit, it’s the reason why he wears the ‘C.’ - Mark Letestu
“I think the battle level is everything for him,” forward Mark Letestu said. “It’s his competitive spirit, it’s the reason why he wears the ‘C.’”
Crosby’s all-around play has caught the attention of some big names around the league, including one of his idols, Tampa Bay GM Steve Yzerman.
“Here we have one of the best players in our game, a young guy just driven to get better and be good in all areas,” Yzerman said on Tuesday at the NHL Board of Governors meeting in Palm Beach, Fla. “He's so important because he can play in all situations. He can score the goal, he can set up the goal, he can win the faceoff, he’ll block the shot—how valuable is that?”
Extremely valuable, although linemate Pascal Dupuis
admitted he does cringe a bit when he sees Crosby preparing to throw his body in front of a blast.
“I’m just like, ‘Oh my God, please hit him in the shinpads,’” Dupuis joked.
All jokes aside, Dupuis said it’s that dedication that makes Crosby such a special player.
“He’s battling hard,” Dupuis said. “He’s showing that he’s willing to go the extra inch to win the battles. He’s the kind of player that is emotional as well, and he’s showing it more out there.”
Another example of this is Crosby’s performance in the faceoff dot, where he leads the league with 402 faceoffs won.
The center has been steadily improving since he entered the league in 2005. In his rookie campaign, Crosby had a 45.5-percent success rate in the faceoff circle, compared to his 55.9-percent success rate this season through 30 games.
“(His points) have overshadowed what he’s been able to do in the faceoff circle,” Letestu said. “He’s taking every big draw for us ... and he takes pride in it. There was a faceoff a couple games ago that he lost cleanly, and he was disappointed in it. It’s something he prides himself in and that he’s always working on.”
With the absence of fellow center Jordan Staal
, a finalist last season for the Selke trophy (best defensive forward), Crosby has been playing phenomenally in the defensive zone.
His play has helped the team average just 1.6 goals-against per game over their 13-0-1 unbeaten stretch. And it’s a testament to Crosby that he can post the numbers he does while being used as a shutdown forward and playing a more defensively-oriented game.
“We put together a highlight video yesterday, and he’s on there a handful of times,” Bylsma said. “For shot-blocking, winning the big faceoff, tracking back and backchecking, lifting up the stick, creating a turnover, playing good in the defensive zone. We’re counting on him for that, probably more for those things right now than we are for scoring goals.”