After being selected by the Pittsburgh Penguins with the No. 1 pick in the 2005 draft, center Sidney Crosby‘s ascension to stardom was rapid.
The Nova Scotia native scored 102 points in his first season and never looked back, quickly becoming one of the faces of the National Hockey League. To date, he’s scored 305 goals and tallied 558 assists, already ranking third in Penguins history with 863 points. In five different seasons, he’s picked up 100 or more points. His career plus-minus rating is 122. And he’s still just 28 years old.
Crosby has been selected to the All-Star team in nine of his 10 full seasons and twice been named the winner of the Hart Memorial Trophy, given to hockey’s most valuable player at the end of every season. He’s led the Penguins to eight playoff appearances in 10 seasons since his arrival in the league and guided them to a Stanley Cup title in 2009, the franchise’s first since the days of Mario Lemieux and Jaromir Jagr in the early 1990s.
But 2015 has been a different story for Crosby, as he hasn’t looked at all like the superstar we’ve all become accustomed to seeing out on the ice.
The Pittsburgh captain started the season at a painfully slow pace, scoring no points and registering only eight shots through the Penguins’ first five games. He broke out in the sixth game of the season with a goal and two assists, but the outburst didn’t do much to kick start his 2015 campaign.
Through 20 games, Crosby has just three goals and eight assists for a meager total of 11 points, which ranks 125th in the NHL. To put that in perspective, Crosby had 29 points in the first 20 contests of last season and has never been held to fewer than 20 points in his first 20 games of any season.
He’s been held scoreless in 13 games, a 65 percent rate. Crosby was held without a point 29 times in 77 games played during the 2014-15 season, a percentage of 37.7.
It’s not only the lack of points that’s so shocking for Crosby, it’s the lack of shots on goal. He has 52 of them this season, fourth on his own team. He’s been held to one shot on goal or fewer in six games, something he did only 10 times all of last season.
Things don’t get much prettier the more you look at the numbers. Crosby has scored on only 5.8 percent of his shots on goal; his career-low is 10.7 percent in 2011-12, a season in which he played only 22 games due to concussion problems. His plus-minus is an unsightly minus-nine, good for 685th in the league. His Corsi-for percentage is 47.6, well under his career mark of 53.6. Those stats aren’t the be-all and end-all in evaluating a player, but they’re very un-Crosby-like, to be sure.
He doesn’t seem to be injured and he’s still only 28, so the issues for Crosby don’t appear to be physical. But what exactly is the problem?
Some of the blame can be placed on coach Mike Johnston, who has endured a lot of criticism for the system he’s implemented and the Penguins’ slow start to the season. Despite a plethora of talent, Pittsburgh has been one of the worst offensive teams in the league, ranking 25th in goals per game (2.2) and 23rd in power-play percentage (15.1).
Perhaps Crosby simply isn’t playing with much confidence right now. He’s off to what is, by far, the worst start of his career and it would be hard for that not to weigh on a player, even one of the world’s most elite.
Fortunately for Crosby and the Penguins, the season is still not even one-quarter of the way over. There’s plenty of time for him to get back on track and be the player everyone is used to seeing on the ice in terms of putting points on the board. A player of Crosby’s caliber will only stay down for so long.
Moreover, the team has managed to survive and stay afloat in the Metropolitan Division (12-8, third place) even with Crosby’s struggles, thanks to solid play from its other superstar center, Evgeni Malkin, and goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury. But if Johnston’s team wants to be considered among the best in the league, it will need to get Crosby — and as a result, the offense — on the right track.