NHL: Crosby fine as Pensí option No. 2
By Alan Robinson
PITTSBURGH ó Sidney Crosby always has been No. 1.
The No. 1 most-watched youth player in Canada. A No. 1 draft pick. No. 1 in scoring in his second NHL season. The No. 1 player in the league by his fellow playersí votes last season.
Crosbyís career-long refusal to be anything but the best highlights the most surprising element to the Pittsburgh Penguinsí run to the Eastern Conference finals that start Friday night against Philadelphia. Evgeni Malkin, not Crosby, has been their No. 1 player in the postseason, and itís been evident.
iI think Malkin right now the best player out of those three,î Flyers defenseman Kimmo Timonen, referring the conferenceís Big 3 of Washingtonís Alex Ovechkin, Malkin and Crosby. iOut of those guys I think Malkin has a little bit of an edge right now.î
Itís not as if Sid the Kid is stuck in some gosh-awful slump, although he has only two goals ó one an empty-netter ó as the Penguins have won eight of nine playoff games. His 12 assists lead the playoffs and his 14 points are one off the lead.
Still, Crosby looks uncharacteristically sluggish at times, unable to use his exceptionally strong lower body to fend off defenders. Heís not been nearly as explosive in his skating or on his quick bursts to the net to snap off hard wrist shots.
Imagine that: the 20-year-old Crosby is having the kind of playoffs very few players will experience, yet is being asked if heís off his game.
iThe middle part of the last series I wasnít where I wanted to be, but the last game I was a lot better,î Crosby said Wednesday, referring to his two-assist game Sunday as the Penguins eliminated the Rangers by winning 3-2 in overtime. iI think itís just one of those things where you get a couple of games that are tougher and thatís just the case in the playoffs.î
What is uncertain is how much the high ankle sprain that sidelined Crosby for 28 of 31 games from mid-January on is affecting him.
Crosby insists heís fine, but he said the same thing in the playoffs a year ago, when he masked a broken foot until the Penguins were eliminated.
Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury also had a high ankle sprain in early December, or five months ago, and he occasionally feels twinges in his ankle even now.
iI think Sidís the type of guy that always goes hard and heís in the corners, is always on his feet battling, and I think those are tough things for guys with that ankle,î Fleury said. iAt the same time, itís good we always have a day off between every game (to rest), so thatís big.î
Crosby was the NHLís leading scorer with 63 points in 46 games before he was hurt. Since returning, he has 23 points, but only six goals, in 16 games.
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