Starkey: In-house solution for Sid?
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Penguins winger Lee Stempniak unintentionally delivered the funniest line of the playoffs Saturday morning at Southpointe.
“I don't think anyone's really worried about Sid or Geno,” Stempniak said.
He's partially right. Nobody's too worried about Evgeni Malkin since his hat trick in Game 6 at Columbus.
As for Sid, well, nobody but an entire region (Western Pennsylvania) and an entire country (Canada) seems all that obsessed with his travails. My goodness, in Canada they're running Zapruder-style films of his speed variations and wondering, with reason, if he is injured.
All I know is this: Crosby often seems strangely disengaged in these playoffs. And it's a fact that if he doesn't find the net Sunday in Game 2 of this Eastern Conference semifinal, he will be mired in the longest goal-scoring drought of his career.
It's May. Sid hasn't scored since March. That's 12 games. The only other time he went 12 games without a goal was in 2011-12, when the slump stretched from December to March because he missed three months on account of post-concussion symptoms.
He also hasn't scored in 12 consecutive playoff games, dating to last year's Boston O-fer. That's twice as long as Mario Lemieux ever went without a playoff goal (although Wayne Gretzky, according to Elias Sports Bureau, had a 12-game playoff goal-less streak with the Los Angeles Kings between 1991 and '92).
We could keep going here.
We could talk about how Sid is 0 for his past 33 from the field. Or about how, as of Saturday afternoon, only one player still participating in the playoffs (linemate Chris Kunitz) has a worse plus-minus rating than Sid's minus-5. Or about how the light in his eyes seems to have been reduced to a flicker while the battle level seems to appear only in small bursts.
We could talk about the fumbled pucks, the oddly shortened shifts and the reduction in overall ice time. Or about how some people point to advanced metrics as a way to prove that Sid is still himself, when all it ever took to determine as much were two eyes and a scoresheet.
But let's search for solutions, instead.
First, to be fair, let's point out that Sid has not exactly been a useless bystander. Coach Dan Bylsma pointed out that Crosby was involved in 27 even-strength scoring chances in the Columbus series.
Stempniak reminded us that Sid draws plenty of attention. That was evident on Stempniak's late chance in regulation in Game 1. Three Rangers leveled Sid like a bowling pin, leaving an entire side of the ice for Stempniak to make one move and fire a point-blank shot.
If Stempniak scores there? Different narrative.
But Stempniak didn't score there. That's kind of the point. The Penguins received a surprisingly large contribution from role players in Round 1 and got another Stempniak goal in Game 1 against the Rangers. How long can that last?
The Penguins are a top-heavy team. A star-centric team. They pay Malkin and Crosby big money to score big goals in the biggest games.
This should be Sid's time. He's 26, in the prime of his career. The Penguins have a golden opportunity here. They don't need him to rip off 10 straight goals. But how about one?
How about a truly big goal for the first time since … when?
I'm betting a goal from Sid would feel like more than just one at this point. It could be a lid-lifting, momentum-altering series-changer.
Toward that end, it might help to graft a big-bodied, multi-talented winger onto his line. The Penguins have just that guy.
His name is James Neal.
Where's the harm in giving Sid some help? He doesn't have to be the sacrificial lamb every game. It helped when Malkin moved to Sid's line against Columbus. That's a more dramatic move than putting Neal there.
How about giving your best center the best available winger, too?
Crosby and Neal played together frequently over a four-game stretch in late December and early January and combined on four even-strength goals — including one in a 5-2 win over the Rangers.
It's true, this would leave Malkin short-handed, but it's not like he and Neal have been lighting it up lately. Plus, Malkin seems fully engaged again. The light's on.
It's Sid who needs a jump start.
Joe Starkey co-hosts a show 2 to 6 p.m. weekdays on 93.7 FM. Reach him at email@example.com.
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