Tuesday, February 09, 2016
The Crosby Show
Even if you have only read a few of the columns in this space, you realize that I encourage you to attend sports events. Above all, if it happens to be hockey.
You may be lucky enough to watch a grandson or granddaughter playing in their first years. It may be a junior game, with regrets to Belleville Bulls' fans. It may be at the professional level, perhaps even the National Hockey League.
The Pittsburgh Penguins played the Florida Panthers last Saturday night. That means that the best hockey player in the world was on the ice. Sidney Crosby has stepped it up a notch, recently, and his team has responded in kind. Despite a dismal start to the season, the Penguins are now knocking on the playoff door. Once that door opens, anything goes.
When the whistle blew at the end of the game on Saturday, Sidney had left his mark in Sunrise, Florida. I am certain you have noticed that the Panthers have enjoyed great success recently. They enjoyed a 12 game winning streak. They lost a few, then won a few more. They are at the top of the Atlantic Division, in the Eastern Conference.
The Panthers have played inspired hockey this year, under the direction of their coach Gerard Gallant. Jaromir Jagr leads the team with his dedicated play, and the young Panthers have responded well to his leadership. With every goal and every assist, Jagr climbs the ladder of the all time leaders in the NHL. He is three goals shy of Brett Hull to become third on the goals list. His 1100 assist moved him into sixth place on that ladder. The remarkable thing is that there is no loafing in his game.
The Panthers have been very strong between the pipes this season. You would expect that from Roberto Luongo, who passed Tony Esposito to become seventh in wins in the NHL. But Al Montoya has played very well, winning 8 games in 11 starts this season, posting a Goals Against Average of 1.93, and a Save Percentage of .931.
Aaron Ekblad celebrated his twentieth birthday on Sunday. He was the Rookie of the Year in the NHL last year, and he continues to play well. His plus 23 rating for goals for and against while he is on the ice is the highest on the team. The rest of the young crew? Jonathan Huberdeau-10 goals; Alexander Barkov—15 goals; Reilly Smith-16 goals; Vincent Trocheck-17 goals; Brandon Pirri-10 goals; Jussi Jokinen-10 goals; Nick Bjugstad-9 goals. Lots of biscuits in the basket.
The Panthers led 2-0 well into the third period on Saturday. They had outshot the Penguins 34-18 at the start of the period. With 5:04 remaining in the game, Crosby threw a long pass across ice to his defenceman, Chris Letang. Letang was well-prepared to shoot the puck, and he hit the twine before Luongo had a chance.
The Penguins pulled their goalie, Jeff Zatcoff, with 1:22 remaining. Seven seconds later, Letang blasted a point shot at the net. It went in off Crosby's pants. With eight seconds gone in the overtime, Jokinen took a hooking penalty. It took little more than a minute for Crosby to find Letang, again, in exactly the same spot, with the same pass, to ice the game, in dramatic fashion.
Zatcoff appreciated his moment in the sun. “I got into a rhythm as the game went along. Most of their shots were ones that I saw very well,” he told me after the game. As I was leaving the dressing room, I spotted Crosby, by himself, carefully filling his hockey bag with all of the paraphernalia.
I told him I was from the Belleville area. “That's the home of Matt Cooke,” he said, in reference to his former teammate. “And Cory Cooper,” he added. “I worked with Cory at a hockey school.” He added: “We've given up a couple of 'shorties' the last couple off games. We had to be careful on power plays. But we worked hard. It was a case of not how hard the puck was moving, but where it was going”. I completely agreed. No point in arguing with a guy like that!
Last night the Penguins topped the Ducks. Crosby had two breakaway goals, and two assists. His seven game goal streak is the best in his career. Some player. A bit of a travesty that he was not invited to this year's All Star game.
February 9, 2016.