On Wednesday morning, Sidney Crosby was tied for sixth in overall scoring with 10 points in six games.
That’s not particularly shocking. But it should be, considering that he’s doing it on a glorified AHL team with players the average fan probably hasn’t heard of.
This is not the same Pittsburgh Penguins that won back-to-back Stanley Cup championships in 2016 and 2017. The team no longer has Phil Kessel, who was traded to Arizona in the summer, while Evgeni Malkin, Nick Bjugstad and Alex Galchenyuk (who was acquired from the Coyotes for Kessel) are all out with early-season injuries.
So how in the world is Crosby still on pace for 136 points? How are the Penguins still holding down second place in the crowded Metropolitan Division?
Do we even have to ask anymore?
This has always been the genius in Crosby’s game. We talk about how star players make those around him better. But Crosby doesn’t just make the players around him better — he turns minor-leaguers into legitimate stars. He did it with Pascal Dupuis and Maxime Talbot. Now, he’s doing it with Jake Guentzel, who scored 40 goals last season, and the undrafted Brandon Tanev, who already has three assists this season.
On the weekend, Guentzel, Zach Aston-Reese and some guy named Sam Lafferty each scored twice in a 7-2 win against Winnipeg. It was Pittsburgh’s third straight win and Crosby’s third multi-point game. It was also the third time this season in which the Penguins scored seven goals.
This wasn’t supposed to happen. When the Penguins lost two of its top-3 centres in Malkin and Bjugstad — not to mention a top-6 forward in Galchenyuk — it was expected to be a death knell. The team supposedly lacked depth. It didn’t have NHL-ready prospects. It didn’t have a chance.
No team would under the same set of circumstances.
Can you imagine Connor McDavid producing points and winning games without Leon Draisaitl and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins? How about Auston Matthews carrying the load without the aid of John Tavares and Mitch Marner?
And yet, since losing Malkin — and Galchenyuk one game later — the Penguins have gone 3-1-0, having outscored their opponents 17-11. It might not last. But at the same time, you’d be a fool to bet against Crosby, who has factored into 40% of the team’s overall offence.
TAKE IT OR LEAVE IT
Buffalo rookie Victor Olofsson is the very-early Calder Trophy favourite with five goals in his first six games. But while the late-bloomer is proving to be a seventh-round steal, Anaheim got even luckier when they plucked Ondrej Kase with the sixth-last pick of the 2014 draft. With 77 points in 155 career games, Kase is ranked 20th in scoring in his draft class … Have to think that this pass-first mentality from assists leader Patrik Laine will eventually lead to more open shots. If so, the Rocket Richard Trophy could be his when all is said and done … Here’s what a really good goalie can do for a team. Anaheim is averaging the second-fewest goals per game so far this season. But the Ducks have the second-best record in the West, because John Gibson has a .941 save percentage after five games … Two weeks into the season and we’ve already seen 11 fights. What’s noteworthy is that the fighters have names such as Sidney Crosby, Roman Josi, Mark Stone, Max Pacioretty, Brayden Point and Pierre-Luc Dubois. In other words, this isn’t your grandfather’s NHL … How many fights does Milan Lucic have to get into before it equals even one of James Neal’s goals?
HERE’S ONE FOR YOU
Connor McDavid is ranked second in the NHL in ice time, averaging 23:10 per game. But what’s interesting is that he’s tied for 71st with 23.2 shifts per game (Tyler Seguin leads the league with 28.9). In other words, once he’s out there, McDavid stays out there for a very long time … Wild head coach Bruce Boudreau seems to think that Alex Ovechkin (663 goals) is going to challenge Wayne Gretzky (894 goals) for the all-time scoring lead. I’ll go one further. If Ovechkin hadn’t missed a year-and-a-half because of labour stoppages, he might have passed The Great One by the end of the season … A year ago, the Maple Leafs had seven players with 20 or more goals. After just seven games, the team already has nine with two or more goals … How much longer does Oilers GM Ken Holland wait before trading Jesse Puljujarvi, who has five goals and 11 points in 11 games with Karpat in the Finnish league? His value may never be higher … Congratulations to Phil Kessel, who has appeared in 1,000 NHL games. Of course, his coaches will tell you that he really only “played” in probably less than half of those, particularly during his final year in Toronto.
FOR WHAT IT’S WORTH
Is Hurricanes head coach Rod Brind’Amour a goalie whisperer? A year ago, Carolina went to the conference final with a goalie who had been bought out by his former team and another who was claimed off waivers. This year is much of the same. Petr Mrazek is 4-0, with a 1.94 goals-against average, while failed Panthers backup James Reimer is 2-1 with a .933 save percentage … If the World Cup is happening in 2021, don’t expect to see 33-year-old Jonathan Quick in the U.S. net. After posting a .888 save percentage last year, the Kings goalie has begun this season by giving up six, eight and five goals in his first three starts … Buffalo’s Rasmus Dahlin has eight points in his first six games. Even more impressive is that he’s averaging seven fewer minutes than defence scoring leader John Carlson, who has 11 points … The undefeated Avs once again have the best No. 1 line in the NHL (eight goals and 23 points in five games). But a bigger reason for their overall success is that the second line of Nazem Kadri, Joonas Donskoi and Andre Burakovsky — all new to the team — have combined for six goals and 12 points in five games.
HOT SEAT IS STARTING TO WARM UP
We’re only two weeks into the season, so no coaches are technically on the hot seat just yet. But for some, the temperature is starting to warm up.
Just give it another couple of weeks.
After all, it was a year ago when two coaches were fired in the first week of November. By the end of the month, two more were gone.
One of those changes resulted in a Stanley Cup for the St. Louis Blues. Meanwhile, off-season coaching changes in Buffalo, Edmonton and Anaheim are examples of how a fresh voice behind the bench can dramatically change a team’s fortunes.
With that in mind, here are four coaches who need to pick up some wins before it’s too late.
John Hynes, New Jersey
Teams that have the No. 1 pick are usually afforded a grace period to rebuild and develop. But this is not a rebuilding team. The Devils, who acquired P.K. Subban and Wayne Simmonds in the summer, were in the playoffs two years ago. And the expectation is that Hynes would have them battling for a spot again this year — not still searching for win No. 1.
Peter DeBoer, San Jose
With Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau now in their early 40s, everyone knew that the window for winning was closing in San Jose. Right now, it looks like it’s shut completely. The team isn’t getting consistent goaltending (3.67 goals-against average), isn’t scoring (2.17 goals per game) and has one of the worst power plays.
Bruce Boudreau, Minnesota
Boudreau is on his third GM with the Wild. Don’t expect him to be around to see a fourth, especially with the team at the bottom of the Western Conference standings. Not that anyone should be surprised. After all, Minnesota is an ageing team that plays in the toughest division in the NHL.
Jim Montgomery, Dallas
A second-half resurgence possibly saved Montgomery’s job last year. But with the team managing just one win in the first seven games, Dallas might not be able to wait that long for another turnaround. Too much was expected of the Stars, who are starting to look like the Blues before they made their coaching change.
BEWARE THE FREE AGENT DEFENCEMAN
How much would you be willing to pay for a No. 1 defenceman?
A better question might be for how long? Three years? Five? Eight?
Eight years might seem short when compared to the 13- or 14-year contracts that Duncan Keith and Shea Weber once signed. But in today’s NHL, where 30 has become the new 40, those max deals now feel like an eternity, especially for a defenceman who is already 30 years old.
It’s something to keep in mind as we head into what is looking like the summer of the free agent defenceman.
St. Louis’ Alex Pietrangelo and Nashville’s Roman Josi headline an impressive group that includes Jake Muzzin, TJ Brodie, Chris Tanev and Kevin Shattenkirk, amongst others.
Both Pietrangelo and Josi are probably looking at the recent $11- and $11.5-million average salaries that Los Angeles’ Drew Doughty and San Jose’s Erik Karlsson recently received. But the bigger issue for the Blues and the Predators — and any other team considering the services of a veteran defenceman — could be term.
The eight-year deal that Ottawa’s Thomas Chabot signed this summer means he will be 30 when the contract expires. An eight-year deal to Pietrangelo or Josi means they will be close to 40.
That’s a world of difference, especially in a league where defencemen, like forwards, are not longer ageing quite as well as they once did.
For every Mark Giordano who wins a Norris Trophy at the age of 36 or Zdeno Chara who plays top-pairing minutes into his 40s, there is a Dion Phaneuf, Brent Seabrook or Duncan Keith who falls off a cliff of productivity in his mid-30s.
In fact, only two of the past eight Norris Trophy winners were over the age of 30 when they won.
Consider that P.K. Subban has been traded twice since signing his eight-year, $72-million contract. Also consider that while Karlsson’s and Doughty’s production continues to decline, Buffalo’s Rasmus Dahlin, Tampa Bay’s Mikhail Sergachev and Colorado rookie Cale Makar, who are all 21 or younger, are amongst the top-10 in scoring.
It could be why St. Louis recently traded for Justin Faulk and then signed him to a six-year extension. Those extra two years matter more than they used to.
1. Colorado Avalanche
Missing training camp hasn’t hurt Mikko Rantanen.
2. Carolina Hurricanes
Dougie Hamilton on a four-game scoring streak.
3. Boston Bruins
Rask and Halak have a combined .949 save percentage.
4. Buffalo Sabres
Don’t look now, but this could finally be Buffalo’s year.
5. Edmonton Oilers
James Neal has gone just two games without scoring.
6. Tampa Bay Ligthning
2-1-0 since Point returned from injury.
7. Toronto Maple Leafs
Mikheyev making an early case for the Calder Trophy.
8. Pittsburgh Penguins
Averaging more than four goals per game — without Malkin.
9. St. Louis Blues
Brayden Schenn leading the team with five goals.
10. Nashville Predators
0-2 when Juuse Saros starts this season.
11. Washington Capitals
Braden Holtby has been leaky in the early going.
12. Anaheim Ducks
Getting by with goaltending and good defence.
13. Vegas Golden Knights
Karlsson has seven assists, but still searching for his first goal.
14. Winnipeg Jets
Imagine how much better they’d be with Byfuglien.
15. Calgary Flames
Lucic has fewer shots than James Neal has goals.
16. Vancouver Canucks
Looks like Pettersson has evaded the sophomore slump.
17. Detroit Red Wings
Outscored 10-3 in the last two games.
18. New York Islanders
Back-to-back overtime wins has them back in the mix.
19. Florida Panthers
Picked up at least a point in each of the last three games.
20. Montreal Canadiens
Allowing 34 shots per game is not a recipe for success.
21. Philadelphia Flyers
Giroux is still searching for goal No. 1.
22. New York Rangers
Kakko finally scored in his third NHL game. More to come …
23. Arizona Coyotes
Darcy Kuemper has a .955 save percentage.
24. Chicago Blackhawks
Newcomer Alex Nylander already has two goals.
25. San Jose Sharks
Jones and Dell have combined for an .881 save percentage.
26. Columbus Blue Jackets
Gave Carolina its first loss.
27. Los Angeles Kings
Managed just two goals in the last two games combined.
28. Dallas Stars
Should be better than its losing record.
29. Ottawa Senators
Namestnikov already has three points with his new team.
30. Minnesota Wild
Not a great sign when the top-three scorers are all defencemen.
31. New Jersey Devils
Battle of the top picks coming against the Rangers on Thursday.
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