Crosby scores hat trick, leads Penguins over Panthers
Technically, in the spot on the lineup card where the Penguins top line is listed, there's an LW before Jake Guentzel's name, a C before Sidney Crosby's and an RW in front of Conor Sheary's, denoting the positions they play.
The way coach Mike Sullivan sees it, the abbreviations all could be replaced with a different one.
Stands for hockey player.
Crosby recorded the 10th hat trick of his career Sunday afternoon, leading the Penguins to a 4-0 victory over the Florida Panthers. Guentzel had the first assist and Sheary the second on all three goals.
The line has been dynamite over the last two weeks, combining for 11 goals and 33 points since it was put together eight games ago.
“I don't think one's a scorer or one's a passer. I think they're hockey players, and they just play hockey,” Sullivan said. “When the shot's there to be taken, they shoot. When it isn't and somebody's open, I think they have the vision and the awareness. They see it.”
On Sunday, they saw Crosby hit the 40-goal mark in a season for just the second time in his career. He scored 51 in 2009-10.
They also saw him move three ahead of Boston's Brad Marchand in the race for the NHL goal-scoring lead and into a tie with Edmonton's Connor McDavid for the top spot in the scoring race with 80 points.
The line isn't necessarily designed for Guentzel and Sheary to do the setup work and Crosby to be the trigger man, but it worked out that way on this day.
“He's leading the league in goals, and that's not by accident,” Sheary said. “He's shooting the puck from everywhere. He's beating the goalies a lot. Getting the puck in his hands is never a bad thing.”
When the puck wasn't in Crosby's hands, the Penguins did a good job stifling Florida's offense. According to coach Tom Rowe, the Panthers' internal stats showed them recording just 12 scoring chances in the game.
When they did manage to work a puck dangerously toward the net, Marc-Andre Fleury turned them away each time. He made 21 saves to record his first shutout of the season.
“It's been a while,” Fleury said. “I was happy to be able to make it until the end. There were a few saves in there that were fun, but I thought our guys did great. Our penalty kill was awesome, and we didn't give them many chances five on five.”
The Penguins' second line broke a scoreless tie late in the first period when Patric Hornqvist knocked in an airborne Phil Kessel pass from behind the net.
The Crosby line took over from there.
With about five minutes left in the second period, Crosby took a cross-crease pass from Guentzel while backing up toward the right faceoff dot and beat goalie James Reimer short side.
Less than two minutes later, Crosby corralled a Guentzel centering pass in the slot and scored on a spinning backhander before Reimer knew what hit him.
Five minutes into the third, Guentzel made a pass from behind the net through a maze of Florida sticks to Crosby inside the right hash marks to complete the natural hat trick.
“For the most part, we try to play the same way,” Crosby said. “I think it just depends on who has the lucky night of being in the right place.”
Crosby may have been in the right places to score the goals, but it was a game Guentzel and Sheary won't soon forget, either.
“It's pretty unique when you can set up a hat trick like that,” Guentzel said. “Growing up, you watch him. To be on his line right now is pretty special. Just trying to make the most of it.”