TORONTO — Oh, you better believe those two apples on Thursday night felt mighty good to No. 87.
Especially because they helped lead his Pittsburgh Penguins to another win.
For Sidney Crosby, the two assists help ease — at least for a day — the heat he’s facing for a start like he’s never had before in his superstar NHL career, having been held pointless in eight of his first 10 games. He has one goal and four assists on the season.
“Yeah, it’s weird how it works,” Crosby said Friday during a sit-down interview after the Penguins arrived in Toronto. “It’s difficult to really put your finger on it. But when you’re going through a time like this, you just try to put your head down and work hard. Make sure that you’re doing the things that it takes to score goals, whether it’s going to the net, or shooting a little bit more, just things that are common habits. I think for us, the main thing is that we’re winning games and we’re definitely finding ways to score a few more goals, which in the first four, five games wasn’t the case.”
Crosby’s slow start has people looking for holes in his game. Is he still doing the same things? He’s second on the team in shots with 30 in 10 games, so it’s not like he’s not trying to break through.
And for those who wonder if he’s still going to the net just as hard, Crosby says absolutely he is.
“I like going into traffic and in those tough areas, that’s when I feel like I’m having an impact on games,” said Crosby, 28. “I feel really comfortable in games where it’s tight and I’m bringing pucks to the net. I think I get into games even more so when it’s like that.”
So yeah, Crosby is feeling that, too.
“Sometimes you’re just looking for a bounce,” said Crosby. “That’s what sort of goes through your head. You go to the same spot and the loose puck doesn’t go there; the next time you go to the net, you go to a different spot and the puck pops where you went the first time. So, it’s just the way it works sometimes. And when you’re not getting points and producing, that’s how it feels. You have to really stick with things, keep working hard, do the simple things and trust that it will go in. I think with the way we’re playing lately, everyone is rolling, there’s a lot to feel good about.”
Crosby understands the scrutiny his opening month has produced.
“That’s part of my job, is to produce,” Crosby said. “And to make sure I’m doing the right things out there. I believe if you do the right things and work hard, the points will take care of themselves. Especially the last four games, I feel that I’ve got some real good opportunities to score and produced some good chances, so I think just sticking with that and make sure the effort is there, everything will take care of itself.”
No question the fact his team has won six of seven games heading into Saturday night’s tilt at the Air Canada Centre has helped ease the irritation of his offensive struggles.
“Definitely,” said the Penguins’ captain. “It’s not something you want to make a habit of, going without points, but to be able to continue to win, it certainly makes a big difference.”
The Penguins are 6-4-0, a nice recovery after starting the season with three losses. But who are they, exactly? What do we make of this team? Are they a contender?
“I still think we need to find our identity, for sure, as far as consistency,” Crosby said. “We definitely have a lot of new guys. I think slowly we’re starting to figure out how we need to play. The consistency part of executing that every night I don’t think is there quite yet. We’ve done some good things, the game in Washington [a 3-1 win on Wednesday] was a good game for us, to be down and come back, it was important to stick with things. Our power play got one [Thursday] night. I think bringing all those things together, certain games have lacked certain things, but I think the consistency part overall is what we need to find and we’ve been doing a better job lately.”
It’s a head-scratcher, to be sure.
“With the group that we have, if we’re not scoring we should at least be able to create momentum in the game,” said Crosby. “We can’t hurt our team with losing momentum while we’re out there on the power play. The goals will come, but let’s make sure we execute and make sure we give ourselves momentum on them.”
The Penguins are on a four-game road trip that takes them after Toronto to Western Canada; next Friday night’s stop in Edmonton will feature the first game between Crosby and the next Crosby.
“Just from watching him, it looks like he’s getting better with every game,” Crosby said of No. 97. “I played against Jack [Thursday] night, and you see how talented he is. With McDavid too, a lot of similar traits, their speed, their poise with the puck, to see that at their age this early in the year is pretty impressive. They definitely don’t look like 18-year-old rookies. They look like they’ve played in the league for a while. They’re impressive.”
Asked what advice he would have for McDavid, given the similar hype and pressure Crosby’s NHL entry produced 10 years ago, Crosby said McDavid seems to already have a good handle on it.
“I would say to just keep doing what he’s doing and to trust what’s got him here, both on and off the ice,” said Crosby. “I think he’s got it figured out. His game speaks for itself. And I think he’s got the right people around him to help him off the ice. He’s also surrounded by players in Edmonton that aren’t that far removed from being young guys in the league, the Taylor Halls of the world, guys who can relate pretty easily to what he’s going through. And the coaching staff there, I know Todd [McLellan] from the world championships, I’m sure he’s a big help to him too. Peter Chiarelli as GM and [CEO] Bob Nicholson, he’s got a good group of people around him to help him out. The easiest part is playing, just enjoy that part.”
It’s what Crosby is trying to do himself.