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Yohe: Crosby’s best yet to come?

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Good evening, hockey fans.

Before you watch the Penguins take on the Bruins tonight – Rob Rossi is on the scene in Baaaahston – I thought you’d like to check out this breakdown, and some lengthy thoughts, on Sidney Crosby’s first 500 games.

Crosby’s 500 games, by the numbers:

0-point games: 126 (25.2 percent)
1-point games: 160 (32 percent)
2-point games: 128 (25.6 percent)
3-point games: 61 (12.2 percent)
4-point games: 20 (4 percent)
5-point games: 3 (0.6 percent)
6-point games: 2 (0.4 percent)

It took more than eight years and was hindered by a work stoppage, multiple concussions and a broken jaw.
Sidney Crosby, however, finally reached the 500-game mark.
And what did we learn about The Kid?
Statistical data indicates that we possibly haven’t seen Crosby at his best just yet.
Essentially, Crosby has been two different players in his career.
I call it Mellon Crosby and Consol Crosby. Follow me here.
Between October of 2005 and May of 2010, Crosby, while playing his home games at Mellon Arena, became an instant star. During this time, he averaged 1.36 PPG. Only four men in history – Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux, Mike Bossy and Bobby Orr – averaged a higher number throughout their careers.
Crosby and Alex Ovechkin were clearly the two best players in the league from 2006 to 2010, and you can make a compelling argument for either man during this stretch.
I typically favor Crosby, given that he could beat you in so many different ways and beat Ovechkin in the classic 2009 playoff series. The league largely belonged to those two players.
Crosby was great, a true superstar, and won a Stanley Cup and Olympic gold medal during the “Mellon Years.”
Coincidentally, I’m sure, Crosby, at 23, became a far superior player when the Penguins moved to Consol Energy Center in 2010. He blew past Ovechkin and the rest of the league, and has been unquestionably the world’s greatest player since that point. He also became a more unlucky one.
In the 129 games Crosby has played since that season, he has averaged 1.55 points per game. This is a different ballgame than the mere 1.36 points per game he put up during the first stage of his career.
You see, 1.55 points per game is very literally hockey god territory. Only Gretzky (1.92) and Lemieux (1.88, was 2.01 when he retired for the first time in 1997) have averaged a higher point per game total.
Gretzky played the prime of his career in the 1980s, when almost three goals per game more were scored in NHL games. Lemieux also did a significant part of his damage before the mid-1990s robbed the game of much of its scoring.
While Crosby doesn’t play in the lowest-scoring era in NHL history, it’s pretty close.
And yet the numbers are positively astounding.
I do believe the summer of 2010 was a pivotal time in Crosby’s development. His 2009-10 season, from a statistical standpoint, was a bizarre one. This marked the only time in Crosby’s career that he topped the 50-goal mark, and he also finished with an impressive 109 points.
However, that season saw Crosby fail to register a point in 25 of his 81 games, easily the most in his career. But he also binged at times that season, which included three hat tricks, two five-point games and a six-point game.
So, why was he inconsistent at times that season but a stunningly more impressive player in the next campaign?
Give the Montreal Canadiens credit, I say.
Crosby has told me that, even had the Penguins defeated the Canadiens in the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs – the Habs closed down Mellon Arena in a Game 7 stunner – they likely wouldn’t have repeated as champions that spring.
Why?
He said the Penguins were absolutely exhausted.
Consider the facts: The Penguins played into June in 2008, falling to Detroit in the Stanley Cup Final. The next season, they again beat Detroit, playing 24 primarily grueling playoff games. Those two springs represented 44 playoff games, more than half an additional season.
Then, the next season saw most of the Penguins best players – Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Sergei Gonchar, Marc-Andre Fleury, Brooks Orpik, etc… – participate in the intense drama that was the Vancouver Olympics during a regular season that showcased a condensed schedule.
The Penguins were out of gas, and perhaps Crosby was, too.
He was finally able to rest that summer, and his numbers subsequently skyrocketed.
I maintain that late in 2010 – before the Winter Classic concussion in January – is probably the best I’ve seen Crosby play. He was remarkable at that point.
Injuries have robbed Crosby of more than 100 games in his prime. He’ll never get those back, right? Well, maybe.
During the lockout, I asked Crosby about the frustration he surely felt because he had missed so much time during his prime years. He didn’t give me a response that indicated any anger. Instead, he said the single most interesting thing I’ve ever heard a hockey player say.
I didn’t tape record it and never used it in an article. But Crosby compared himself to a horse. No, really. He explained that, some horses are injured when they’re young and actually have their best legs later in life.
Crosby then suggested that his prime could come in his late 20s or even past 30, while most great players – Gretzky, Lemieux, and Orr are classic examples – clearly peak between the ages of 22 and 28.
I’m willing to bet that Crosby is about to get extremely hot. He’s finally healthy, and this is the time of year when he usually heats up.
Crosby is better the more he plays. You’ll recall during the 2011-12 season, when he played in only 22 games, Crosby was all over the place. He produced that memorable four-point night against the Islanders during his “return” game, but Crosby also was held without a point in seven of his 22 games, an unusually high percentage for him
The next season, Crosby was very nearly at the height of his power when he broke his jaw. He produced in the playoffs, but wasn’t the same.
And now we have arrived in the 2013-14 season. Crosby’s season hasn’t been spectacular for his standards, but when you see how scoring has dropped in the league – 5.44 goals are being scored per game, compared to 6.17 in Crosby’s rookie season – he’s been terrific.
October is often the worst month of his career, and he started this season in strong fashion, perhaps a sign that we’re witnessing one of his great seasons.
It’s important to stay tuned, of course.
Horse races always get better the longer they go.

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