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Crosby says scoring surge after All-Star snub purely coincidental

| Thursday, Jan. 28, 2016, 8:33 p.m.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
The Penguins' Sidney Crosby plays against the Devils on Tuesday, Jan. 26, 2016, at Consol Energy Center.

Whether Sidney Crosby's absence from the NHL's All-Star rosters, released Jan. 6, qualified as a snub intrigued players, fans and media alike. For the Penguins' captain, it served as a reminder of how much he struggled during the season's first three months.

Others deserved the recognition, he said at the time. Crosby, well behind the league leaders in all scoring categories, made no effort to deny his underwhelming start to the season or emphasize the importance of his marketability as an established star.

What sounded sensible about Crosby's absence at the time now borders on comical with All-Star weekend set to begin Friday in Nashville, Tenn. Between the NHL's holiday break and its All-Star lull, Crosby moved from tied for 84th in the league in points with 22 to tied for 22nd with 41.

His 19 points since the holiday break tied for third in the NHL behind Chicago's Patrick Kane and Los Angeles' Anze Kopitar, and his 11 goals in that stretch tied him with Washington's Alex Ovechkin for the most.

Where others see a potential snub-as-the-spark narrative, Crosby sees pure coincidence.

“I think with the start I had, that was motivation enough,” he said. “I don't really see (the All-Star game voting) as a big factor.”

Nothing about Crosby's history suggests he holds a particular affection for the All-Star game. He played in the game in 2007. Injuries and the Olympics kept him out of the event during almost all of the seasons that followed.

Unlike some of his teammates, Crosby said he didn't plan to even treat the All-Star break like a cause for elaborate travel. He expressed no intention to head somewhere warm and sunny in the South.

“Just going to take it easy,” he said. “If you're not there (at the All-Star game), you've got to make the most of the five days. … You try to take advantage of the five days and make sure you're ready to go for the stretch run when you get back.”

What kind of scoring pace Crosby maintains depends, to a degree, on his luck.

Much of the explanation for his six goals at the holiday break, a total that put him behind 150 players in the category, rested in his 6.5 shooting percentage, a mark that sat alarmingly below his 13.5 career average.

His 22.9 shooting percentage in the 15 games since the holiday break likely will prove equally unsustainable.

Teammates and opponents doubt Crosby will dip back into uncharted territory as a scorer.

“When you think of the top 10 players, you have a pretty good list in your own mind, and obviously, for me, (Crosby) is one of the guys that goes on the list, for sure,” New Jersey forward and former Penguin Tyler Kennedy said. “It's funny that he's not in (the All-Star game), but hey, I don't know. Maybe it'll be good for him to rest.”

“I've been impressed with the way he's responded to (the early season slump),” forward Matt Cullen said. “His game has gone through the roof, and he's played some unbelievable hockey. He's been the driving force for our team since then.”

Coach Mike Sullivan missed the portion of the season when Crosby struggled, so he declined to speculate on why. He is certain Crosby is playing in a way that better fits the Penguins' push for playoff position than it does the Metropolitan Division's plans for this weekend's 3-on-3 All-Star tournament.

“He's playing in the battle areas,” Sullivan said. “He's winning puck battles. And when he does that, he's at his best. He's scored a fair amount of goals, and a lot of them are in the hard areas. Right around the blue paint, where you've got to take a cross-check, or you've got to get your nose over the puck and pay a price in order to score. I think he's a world-class player that has the skill sets to play in those areas, and he plays with courage.”

Jonathan Bombulie contributed. Bill West is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at wwest@tribweb.com or via Twitter @BWest_Trib.

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