Riding Shotgun with Sidney Crosby by @ExcitedBobErrey - PensInitiative | Pittsburgh Penguins Blog | Rumors | News

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Monday, February 17, 2014

Riding Shotgun with Sidney Crosby by @ExcitedBobErrey

Another Winter Olympics has begun, along with all the familiar traditions that accompany the games: an opening ceremony honoring the delegations of the participating nations, medal ceremonies honoring the top 3 finishers with the Gold Medal winners' national anthems playing, and Canadians (among others) complaining about Sidney Crosby. More specifically, the difficulty that comes along with trying to play alongside Crosby, as the line shuffling and lack of chemistry in Vancouver has spilled over into the Sochi games. But how much of this is a real problem, and how much is actually affecting Team Canada? Through 3 games Sidney Crosby has 2 assists and, more importantly, Team Canada has 3 wins, 8 points, and an automatic berth in the quarterfinals. The same criticisms were heard four years ago, yet Canada won the Gold and Crosby finished with 4 goals and 3 assists in 7 games, including a fairly important GWG.

Much of the criticism is over the top, and at the root a small bit does ring true, but is that any real surprise? With no games leading up to the Olympics and no on-ice action at the orientation camp, this is the first time most of these players have played together. While it's a factor everyone must deal with, it doesn't mean it's any less of an issue in this specific case. With the best players in the world participating in the Olympics, the players are going to skate faster and shoot harder, but having elite physical abilities doesn't necessarily translate into having an elite mental ability to process the game and break down the action. Sidney Crosby often makes things look routine playing hockey that the vast majority of players wouldn't even think to try, let alone be able to execute. It's much easier to play off a player that likes to shoot from a certain spot, or is good at crashing the net and getting to rebounds. But when a player is so well rounded that he can effectively beat a defense in a multitude of different ways, and what he decides to do is dependent on what he sees from the defense, AND he's reading the defense at a higher level than anyone else on the ice and seeing plays and options that no one else does, it's going to take a lot more than a handful of practices and 3 games to be able to keep up.

Just like in Vancouver, the constant shuffle of linemates doesn't help either. Jeff Carter started off playing on Crosby's wing, and he responded to his demotion in the second game by scoring a hat trick. Chris Kunitz was expected to help provide some stability on LW, but he's seemed tentative during action so far and hasn't been able to fully show why he deserves to be in Sochi on his own merit. Martin St Louis, Jamie Benn, and Patrice Bergeron have all been given a chance, and nothing so far has seemed to click. And the Canadian most likely to be able to step in and immediately click with Sidney Crosby is halfway across the globe. How badly could Team Canada use James Neal on Crosby's RW right now? Neal has one of the best shots in the NHL and, more importantly, has shown himself time and again to not only be able to keep up with a dangerous and unpredictable playmaking center, but to be able to thrive alongside that type of player. His familiarity with Sidney Crosby from the Pittsburgh Penguins would have only helped further, and he possesses the one intangible that is badly lacking on Crosby's wings: the ability to see the game the way Sidney Crosby sees it.

Unfortunately for Team Canada, James Neal isn't an option now, and a solution needs to be worked out with the players available in Sochi. And it needs to be a shared burden, by everyone involved. Asking Sidney Crosby to simplify his game would take away what makes him such a dangerous player, but adjusting his mindset could go a long way towards making the wingers fit. Crosby has registered 5 SOG through three preliminary round games. While he's undoubtedly at the top of his game when he can function as a playmaking center with scoring ability, this is someone who's a former Rocket Richard Trophy winner and 50 goal scorer. Serving as the primary shooter on his line is a role Sidney Crosby is more than qualified to handle, and while not his preferred method of attack it's still one he can execute at an elite level. In doing so Crosby won't have to simplify his game or change the things that make him more dangerous on the ice, but he does make it easier for his teammates, as it's much easier to be able to play with a scorer than trying to follow along and see what Crosby is seeing from the defense.

But the important thing to remember is that Team Canada has clinched a spot in the quarterfinals by winning all three of its preliminary round games, and even with the lack of chemistry on his line Sidney Crosby has helped get them to this point. The constant juggling of linemates certainly isn't helping the situation; if he doesn't have immediate chemistry with his wingers it's very unlikely he's going to be able to develop chemistry by the end of such a short tournament. But Sidney Crosby would do anything to help Canada win another Gold Medal, and transitioning from a playmaking to a scoring mentality would not only help Canada on its way to a repeat but would help solve the chemistry issue at the same time.

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