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Penguins

Scoring slumps never last long for Penguins' streaky Sidney Crosby

Jonathan Bombulie
| Saturday, Jan. 27, 2018, 5:33 p.m.
The Penguins' Sidney Crosby takes a shot that rings off the pipe against the Wild in the third period Thursday, Jan. 25, 2018 at PPG Paints Arena.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
The Penguins' Sidney Crosby takes a shot that rings off the pipe against the Wild in the third period Thursday, Jan. 25, 2018 at PPG Paints Arena.

Sidney Crosby isn't playing in the NHL All-Star Game on Sunday because he has avoided slumps this season. He has had a couple of doozies.

He remains at the top of the list of best players in the world, in part, because those slumps don't last too long, and when he breaks out of them, he does so in a way only he can.

“It's like an explosion,” teammate Olli Maatta said.

Crosby slipped into his first scoring slump of the season in late October, recording no goals and three assists in an 11-game stretch. How did he break out of it? With an explosion of eight goals and 19 points in 12 games.

Slump No. 2 began in the middle of December and included one goal and three assists in 11 games. It spawned a column in the New York Post two days before Christmas with the following headline: “We are now witnessing the sad decline of Sidney Crosby.”

Thirteen days after the story was published, Crosby recorded a goal and three assists in a 4-0 victory over the Islanders. Thus began a hot streak that saw Crosby hit the All-Star break with 19 points in his past nine games.

Maatta wondered aloud if the writers of the Crosby-is-finished stories ever write a follow-up article with the headline, “Nevermind,” a few days later.

“Maybe one night didn't go his way or something, but at the end of the day, he'll end up scoring,” Maatta said. “That's the thing.”

One day, Crosby probably will slip into a slump he can't shake. He is on the other side of his 30th birthday, and every great scorer slows down eventually. Even now, he's a little less prolific than he was a decade ago, averaging 1.08 points per game the last four seasons as opposed to 1.40 in the first nine seasons of his career.

Crosby, though, doesn't feel like he's getting streakier with age.

“I feel like I'm usually pretty streaky when it comes to scoring goals, to be honest with you,” Crosby said. “It's just one of those things where sometimes it's going in, and sometimes it's not.”

Perhaps that's part of the reason Crosby has become such an expert at breaking out of slumps with authority. He doesn't overthink them.

“It's a confidence thing and a shooting mentality,” Crosby said. “Sometimes, it just comes down to bounces. When you look at it, sometimes that's just the way it is.”

Maatta took it a step further. He said Crosby does so many other things to help his team win during a scoring slump that it's almost not worth labeling it a slump in the first place.

“It's the way he plays,” Maatta said. “It seems like it doesn't bother him at all. He's always battling for pucks. He's always doing the right things. Honestly, when you're on the ice with him, it makes the game easier for you. Even if he's not scoring, he battles.”

When a teammate is stuck in a scoring slump, Crosby takes his role of captain seriously and often offers a bit of morale support.

“He can tell when guys are fighting it a little bit,” winger Bryan Rust said.

When pucks aren't going in for Crosby, though, teammates don't often return the favor.

“Um, usually no,” Rust said. “He's been doing it long enough and he's been scoring long enough where he has ways to get out of whatever he's doing.”

Teammates don't need to offer words of encouragement, they figure, because all they have to do is wait a little while.

“Most hockey players, they get out of a slump with maybe a lucky goal or an assist,” Rust said. “He gets out of a slump with a four-point night. I guess that's what makes him so special.”

Jonathan Bombulie is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at jbombulie@tribweb.com or via Twitter @BombulieTrib.

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