Crosby's return has highlighted crucial skill
Sidney Crosby surely was nervous when he returned to the NHL on Nov. 21, and when people -- even the seemingly superhuman among us -- get nervous, they resort to what makes them most comfortable.
And so, when Crosby saw that first opening against the Islanders, he returned to his hockey roots, the facet of his game that has been there since he was a boy.
Backhand shot. Top shelf. Goal.
Crosby's gifts are many, but the most notable might be a backhand shot that is something more than complementary. It is lethal.
"I'm just so comfortable with it," he said. "I don't go to it by design. I don't consciously think about it."
Goalies, however, do consciously think about it.
The two goalies who face him daily in practice confess that they've never seen anything like the Crosby backhand.
"It's the best," Penguins goalie Brent Johnson said. "By far the best I've ever seen. It's so powerful, and he can hit his spot every time. That's something you don't see with backhands."
A few physical attributes -- and one important piece of strategy -- seem to set Crosby's backhand apart.
Most players require an extra second to fire a backhand shot, as the motion simply isn't natural. But for Crosby, no such time is necessary.
Without the help of a backswing, Crosby can elevate his backhand shot with authority.
"He basically takes a slapper with his backhand," Johnson said. "But he doesn't pull it back and drag it like with most backhands. He just fires it."
And he'll fire it from anywhere. When Crosby is 30 feet from the net, he won't hesitate to unleash a backhand shot. Sometimes, he beats the goaltender, sometimes, it creates a juicy rebound. No matter what, it causes a goaltender stress.
"You know it's coming," Washington goalie Tomas Vokoun said. "But that doesn't mean it's easy to stop. He'll take it from anywhere, and it's so hard to read."
Ruining the Curve
Crosby uses one of the straightest sticks in hockey. While the tactic might reduce some velocity from his wrist shot, it adds to the power of his backhand shot.
"I've used a stick with more of a curve before," Crosby said. "But you start to lose more on the backhand, and (it's harder to) receive passes."
The straight sick makes goaltenders more aware of his backhand.
"It's harder for a guy like Ovi (Washington left wing Alex Ovechkin) to really get a lot on a backhand, because his stick is so curved," Vokoun said. "But Sid is different. He shoots it from far out, too. And he makes perfect passes on the backhand side. Not fun for a goalie."
The backhand shot, by nature, is unpredictable and sneaky. Goalies don't enjoy seeing backhand shots. Though players around the league acknowledge that Crosby possesses the game's finest backhander, he also is the game's premier playmaker and especially potent when making a pass from his backhand side.
It's quite a burden for goalies and defensemen. Zybnek Michalek, the Penguins defenseman who has played against him, said Crosby forces defenders to break lifelong habits.
"Usually you try to force players to their backhands," Michalek said. "But he's so dangerous from both sides. It's so hard to defend. It's a huge advantage for him."
If a defenseman respects Crosby's backhand too much, he can take full advantage. Of course, if the backhand is left wide open, Crosby typically has the defenseman and the goalie at his mercy.
"He almost prefers going to the backhand," Michalek said. "What a skill to have. Not many players have it."
Crosby, who is listed at 5-foot-11, 200 pounds, isn't physically imposing on the surface. However, his lower-body strength is the stuff of legend, and those powerful legs are the foundation of his backhand power.
When Crosby torques his body toward the backhand side, a shot with rare velocity frequently follows.
"That's the thing about his backhand," goalie Marc-Andre Fleury said. "He can just shoot it so much harder than anyone else. That's what I always notice."
Crosby seems to have relied on his backhand shot more than usual during the first two weeks of his comeback. Whether it was the two goals he scored against the Islanders or the deft pass that set up right wing James Neal's 14th goal of the season in New York on Monday, Crosby's backhand remains in top form despite his absence for almost a year.
"Just a comfort level," Crosby said.
NHL goalies, beware.
"Usually backhands are a (crapshoot)," Johnson said. "But not with Sid. He always knows where it's going. It's unbelievable."Additional Information:
Back it up
Sidney Crosby's arsenal of tools includes arguably the finest backhand shot in hockey history. Many of his greatest moments have come courtesy of a backhand shot that leaves goaltenders fearful. A list of his backhand's greatest hits:
11⁄10/05 Crosby's first shootout goal concluded his first game against a Canadian team when he roofed a backhand shot over Montreal goalie Jose Theodore in his rookie season's most memorable moment.
1⁄27/07 In one of the great highlight-reel goals of his career, Crosby launched a backhand shot for a goal in Phoenix while falling down.
3/26⁄11 It was merely a goal in practice, but Crosby's backhand shot that forced a Gatorade bottle to explode became a YouTube sensation and lifted hopes that maybe he could return that season.
11⁄21⁄11 Crosby beat Islanders goalie Anders Nilsson for the first goal of his comeback from a concussion with a nasty backhand shot and later scored a second goal on the backhand.
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