Sunday, April 16, 2023

Sidney Crosby Story, plus.

Hockey's regular season is over and the playoffs begin tomorrow. Let me post this nice story first:

The Pittsburgh Penguins, my team, missed the playoffs for the time in 17 years. They played very inconsistently. Their playoff streak had been the longest in North American sports; I think the second-longest is now 9 or 10 years. 

Now it's over. 

They did this despite controlling their playoff destiny -- they lost to the worst team in the league, the Chicago Blackhawks, even though if they had won that game they were still in the hunt, and only needed to beat the second-worst team in the league, Columbus, two days later.

It was a monumental collapse. The Penguins fired their front office the next day, and they deserved it for having made several bad trades and contract agreements. 

But no doubt some of the players didn't have enough heart, either. (Easy to say, as a fan.)

Crosby played great this season: 93 points, 1.13 points/game, 3.38 points per 60 minutes, played all of the 82 games without an injury. 35 years old.

So did their other superstar, Evgeni Malkin: 82 points, 1.00 points per game, unexpectedly played every game. 36 years old.

But they didn't have the contribution they needed from their third- and fourth-lines, and they didn't have the goal keeping they needed (.907 save percentage, 3.03 goals per game, if my spreadsheet it right). 

It's a big disappointment, and although the Penguins have been receding since their back-to-back Stanley Cup wins in 2015-16 and 2016-17, this seems very stark, like the Crosby-Malkin-Kris LeTang era is over. Three Cups in Crosby's career, which is huge by any standard. Crosby was still outstanding this year, not only on offense, but making vital plays on defense too, diving for pucks in a way no others players were (consistently), and leading his team as always. (Crosby will always be a better 200-foot player than the league's current superstar, Connor McDaniel, and a better leader too. But McDaniel did score an incredible 153 points this year.)

In hockey, for players, a "point" is a goal or an assist. That's right, assists count as much as goals.)

Even though the Penguins would have very likely lost in the first round of the playoffs, to the Boston Bruins (the NHL's best team this year, who set the record for the most points ever in an 82-game NHL season), this is a great disappointment for Pittsburgh fans.

I guess now I will root for the Bruins. Actually I somehow got really tuned in to their playoff run in 2003-4 when I lived in New Hampshire; back then they were on regular TV out of Boston, and I had cable TV back then too, even though they were eliminated in the first round. I remember Ray Borque skating all over the place. But I didn't understand much about hockey then.

It's hard to imagine the Penguins doing much better next season. Sadly. As I've said before, I really regret I didn't become a Penguins fan until the year after their 2017 Stanley Cup. There were on a tremendous run, and changed the face of hockey with their fast play. But this year they were the oldest team in the league, which is now dominated by young, fast players (although most of them don't score a point a game, like Crosby).

Go Bruins, I guess. (Sigh.) But not one of them, or McDaniel, is the all-around player that Sidney Crosby is.

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