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Zucker finds chemistry with Crosby on left wing

by Mark Madden / 105.9 the X

When the Penguins got Jason Zucker from Minnesota on Feb. 10, the unspoken intent was to play Zucker on Sidney Crosby's left wing.

Since then, unspoken intent has become an obvious success: Zucker has six goals in 11 games since joining the Pens, with four of those goals assisted by Crosby. Zucker also has four helpers, assisting Crosby thrice.

Crosby likes to watch each shift on one of the bench's iPads, discussing what transpired with his linemates. Zucker thinks that the process helps.

"I love it, because you can't lie," Zucker said, smiling. "'Where were you?' 'Oh, I was here.' 'No, you weren't. You were there.'

"So it's great to be able to see it, because there are times you say, 'Oh, I was open' or 'I saw this.' But when you watch it again, you might have had a little more time, or you weren't as open as you thought. You also see some of [the opposition's] tendencies defensively."

Zucker and Crosby have had success together. But Zucker thinks still more can be achieved.

"We're still trying to gain chemistry," Zucker said. "It's good to talk to Sid after every shift, and make sure we're building that chemistry. He's not a hard guy to play with. I'm just trying to make sure I use my assets. Make some space, and create some plays.

"There are things I'm still learning. Things I'm working on, and things I'm trying to fix. I'm watching video and talking to Sid. It's a learning curve. It's a building process." 

When asked about his considerable speed, Zucker said, "[Conor] Sheary's got speed, too. It's great to have speed on the wings. Sid's obviously an unbelievable playmaker."

Sheary skated at right wing with Crosby and Zucker in the Pens' 7-3 home win over Ottawa March 3. Crosby and Zucker each had a goal and two assists. Sheary had a goal and assist.

Zucker calls Crosby "the best player in the world," but adds that Crosby's game is relatively uncomplicated.

"You just make sure you're making the hard plays," Zucker said. "Sid plays a very simple game. You make the simple plays, and make sure you're getting pucks out at the blue line and get them in at the blue line, and make the play when it's there. But when it's not there, you make sure you keep it simple and don't turn the puck over."

Coach Mike Sullivan is happy with Zucker's progress, and his initial work with Crosby: "Zuck's been good lately. He's getting more comfortable with how we're trying to play. He has a better understanding of utilizing and leveraging his speed. He's showing an ability to finish. He can score. He's starting to get some chemistry with Sid."

After 56 total games between Minnesota and Pittsburgh, Zucker has 20 goals and 15 assists. His best season was 2017-18, when he had career highs in goals (33), assists (31) and points (64) with the Wild. The 5-foot-11, 183-pound Californian played college hockey at Denver and was a second-round pick by Minnesota in the 2010 NHL draft.

To listen to Jason Zucker on the latest edition of The Scoop podcast, click here.

Mark Madden hosts a radio show 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WXDX-FM (105.9)

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