PITTSBURGH - There has been a belief in the Stanley Cup Playoffs in recent years that Pittsburgh Penguins captain Sidney Crosby has been lacking some kind of a signature moment. A big goal, in a big game, that can change a series.
This line of thinking should seem a little odd when you consider everything he has accomplished in his NHL career to this point. He has won scoring titles and MVP awards, his name is on the Stanley Cup, and he has been the most productive player in the league over the past decade with a level of production that compares favorably to the best players from any other era. His resume speaks for itself.
But when it comes to the NHL's best players there is always a demand for more. Because the championships haven't rolled in for him and the Penguins like they were expected to when he entered the NHL, and because he hasn't really had that "big goal" type of moment, his play at times has been in the crosshairs when it comes to his postseason track record. That has been especially true over the past two weeks.
That briefly changed - at least until he goes a couple of games without a goal - when he had his big moment goal by scoring 40 seconds into overtime to help lift the Penguins to a 3-2 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference final. It not only snapped what had been an eight-game goal drought for Crosby, but it tied the series at one game apiece and helped the Penguins avoid what could have been a two-game deficit going into Game 3.
The funny thing about all of this is he never really needed that moment. He's had plenty of them.
We love to pick and choose what is a big goal and a big game after the fact based on who did what and in what situation. If Jonathan Toews scores a goal in the playoffs, it's a big goal because we decided he is a big game player. Same for Justin Williams. Same for any other player that happens to get the most playing time when games are still in doubt.
Hockey is a game of chaos, randomness and mistakes, where things do not always go as planned. A lot of times it comes down to circumstance and being in the right place at the right time.
For Crosby on Monday, it was Matt Cullen falling down.
Crosby's goal all started when Penguins defenseman Brian Dumoulin connected with Bryan Rust on a pass that gave him a clear entry into the zone and produced what appeared to be a 3-on-1 rush for the Penguins with Rust Crosby and Matt Cullen.
And then Cullen fell.
Rust said after the game he was initially looking to pass the puck across the ice to Cullen, but when he noticed that he had lost his footing, Crosby immediately started yelling for the puck, and that when one of the best players in the world calls for the puck, you listen to him.
If Cullen doesn't fall, he might be the Game 2 hero and Crosby is still lacking his moment.
If Crosby's shot in the second period that turned into a stunning glove save by Vasilevskiy along the goal line goes in the net, it's just another goal that ended his streak. Even if it proved to be the difference in the game, it's not viewed as a "clutch goal" or a "big moment" because it didn't happen in the third period or overtime.
This is the type of stuff that forms our narratives and makes or breaks the reputation of players. This is dumb. This is the playoffs. Just about every goal matters because there are usually only four or five them in a single game. If you're lucky. Every game is a big game.
Crosby is eighth all-time in NHL postseason points per game at 1.15. He and his teammate, Evgeni Malkin (1.06), are the only two active players in the top-34 on the all-time list and the only two that average more than a point-per-game. He is fifth among active players in postseason goals per game.
These are big numbers. All-time great numbers. But because the goals haven't been as frequent as we have liked over the years in the playoffs, and especially this year (like the eight-game drought), things have quickly gone off the rails. Crosby should score more goals. Why isn't Crosby scoring more goals? Why isn't Crosby rising to the occasion in the playoffs?
And then it happened. Things reached their most absurd point during Game 2 on Monday night when former player Jeremy Roenick uttered what might have been the dumbest sentence in the history of NHL commentary.
"If I were Sidney Crosby right now, I'd watch the work ethic that Jonathan Drouin has on a nightly basis." - @Jeremy_Roenick— NBC Sports PR (@NBCSportsPR) May 17, 2016
Look, there is only one reason things like this get said: He didn't have enough goals at the time. A couple more pucks go in the net for him along the way, nobody is questioning his work ethic or wondering about his play in the playoffs even if he was playing the exact same way.
There are valid reasons for criticism this postseason. He could probably take a few more shots when he has the chance. Everybody on the Penguins' power play can play better. The analysis or focus should never be "just score a goal," or telling the best player in the world to learn from a 20-year-old.
The dry spell offensively is nothing uncommon when it comes to any other superstar player in the NHL. They go cold from time-to-time, and this becomes especially true in the playoffs where the best players in the NHL, the guys that fill the net more than anybody else, only actually score goals in 20 to 35 percent of their games (unless you're Alex Ovechkin, who is just an absolute freak on skates).
I know I have beaten this subject into the ground, but ... fight me. Playoff goal scoring isn't easy. pic.twitter.com/xRgT8pfx3b— Adam Gretz (@AGretz) May 16, 2016
This means in 65-80 percent of their games they are not going to score. That is a lot of time when the best players are not scoring.
Even though his production has dropped in the playoffs in recent years (it has also dropped in the regular season, too, most likely because he is closing in on age 30 and is no longer in his early-mid 20s when players produce at their peak levels), he is still one of the most productive players in the league in the playoffs. Since 2011-12 his 0.92 point per game average is tied with Patrick Kane for 5th best in the league among players that have played in at least 20 playoff games. That should be enough from your best player to win.
The Penguins stars haven't been the reason for their playoff shortcomings in recent years. They have produced at levels that are right there with the league's other postseason superstars. The difference between them, and say, the Chicago Blackhawks, hasn't been the play of the stars, because Toews and Kane have had just as many, if not more, lengthy scoring slumps in the playoffs.
It's been the play of everybody else and the lack of any kind of secondary scoring that is an essential ingredient to winning a championship.
It shouldn't be a knock on a player like Crosby that the Penguins needed a series where the third or fourth lines carried the offense to win. That is how the playoffs work. Sometimes your top players get shut down for a stretch and somebody else needs to provide the offense. This is especially true in this era of the NHL where the game's best players are being limited unlike any other era in league history. One or two players are not enough to win. It has worked out this way for every team that has won a Stanley Cup over the past 10 years because they have all had stretches in the playoffs where their best players did not score goals or carry the offense.
For the Penguins, they finally have that type of team.
On Monday, Crosby finally had his moment, and it might be the type of play to help him find a hot streak that will change the way his postseason is viewed. Right up until he goes a couple of games without scoring again and he is told to take lessons from Jonathan Drouin.