Sidney Crosby exceeded all expectations in his rookie season. (Dave Sandford/Getty Images).
The education of Sidney Crosby
Rookie lessons could vault Sid the Kid to the top of the class
Last Updated Wed., Sept. 27 2006
As anyone who has endured the first day of school can attest, things get easier the second time around.
For sophomore sensation Sidney Crosby, though, replicating the stellar grades he earned in the first year of his NHL education promises to be no easy assignment.
Hailed as hockey's post-lockout saviour after racking up 120 goals and 303 points in two seasons with the Rimouski Oceanic of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, Crosby exceeded most expectations in his rookie campaign with the Pittsburgh Penguins.
The 18-year-old became the youngest NHL player to crack 100 points, finishing with 102, good for sixth in the league and a Pittsburgh rookie record. Besides leading his team in points, Crosby topped the Pens in goals (39), assists (63), power-play goals (16), game-winning goals (five) and shots (278).
Now with a successful season under his belt, Crosby knows many observers are anticipating even loftier numbers in Year Two.
"I think if it's your second year, you're more experienced, there's no reason why you can't be a better player," the now 19-year-old told reporters on a recent conference call.
"Of course, if you get a hundred points one year, you're going to be expected to get 115 your second year, to increase like that."
Improving significantly on his 2005-06 performance may prove difficult for Crosby, especially now that opponents will be targeting him in earnest. With Mario Lemieux retired (again), veterans John Leclair and Mark Recchi in decline, and rookie phenom Evgeni Malkin an unknown quantity, Crosby will begin his sophomore campaign as the undisputed best player on a Penguins team that finished at the bottom of the Eastern conference last season.
But the bad news for Crosby's foes is that a closer look at his brilliant rookie year shows Sid the Kid still has a lot of room to grow.
Major trouble with minor penalties
One area in which Crosby has nowhere to move but up is ice time. Perhaps fearing their budding star would wilt under the grind of his first NHL season, Penguins head coaches Ed Olczyk and Michel Therrien (the latter took over in December) avoided overworking him. Though Crosby's average of 20 minutes, seven seconds of ice time per game led all Pittsburgh forwards, it was at least 1:02 less than each of the five players who finished ahead of him in the league scoring race.
"It's not something I'm really worried about," the always diplomatic Crosby said when asked if he and Therrien had broached the subject of ice time. "I think when he feels it's right to put me out there in the right situation, I'll be out there."
As Sidney Crosby matures, he should spend less and less time in the penalty box. (Andrew Vaughan/Canadian Press)
"It's up to me to earn those situations as well, late in the game, on the penalty kill, things like that. We'll see what happens."
Indeed, Crosby has it within his power to increase his ice time. One of the reasons he finished 14th on the Penguins in shorthanded minutes last season is that he was often in the box watching his teammates kill off fouls he had incurred. Crosby's 55 minor penalties earned him the dubious honour of leading both his team and, by a wide margin, all NHL rookies in that category.
"I would expect he will spend considerably less time in the penalty box [this season]," CBC's Scott Morrison told Sports Online. "The combination of the new rules and a lot of frustration led to Crosby taking more penalties than he and the Penguins would have liked. The combination of a year of experience and more maturity should correct the problem."
Less whine needed from Pens' bread and butter
Crosby acknowledged he spent too much time in the sin bin, but said he doesn't plan to alter his game.
"You want to be out there playing," he said. "But I think I have to play an aggressive game in order to force turnovers, create opportunities. Obviously, I don't want to be in the box for over a hundred minutes during the season, but at the same time I have to try to play with an edge and battle out there."
Crosby's penalty woes last season may have been exacerbated by his (largely deserved) reputation for over-reacting to referees' calls. There were even reports that the 38-year-old Recchi called out his young teammate over his handling of officials.
"There's no question [Crosby] got frustrated at times and was labelled as a whiner," said Morrison, who chalked up Crosby's occasional outbursts to a surplus of passion. "I don't think it was a problem with his teammates, not yet anyway. Everyone in that dressing room knows he is their bread and butter."
Hockey Night in Canada analyst Kelly Hrudey predicted to Sports Online that Crosby, like many young stars of previous vintage, will mellow with age.
"A pretty good player before him, Wayne Gretzky, had the same reputation," Hrudey said. "But over time he learned to temper that."
Tranquillity and patience aren't necessarily traits most would associate with a hockey talent as precocious as Crosby. But if Sid the Kid can learn to control his petulant side, he could soon find himself at the head of the class.
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- Sidney Crosby's official site