The Pittsburgh Penguins aren’t the only NHL club this season that’s failed to meet expectations, but when you boast the likes of Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Phil Kessel, extra attention is going to be paid.
Why has Crosby struggled to put up offensive numbers? What will it take to see him back at his best? And was the coaching change the key to molding them into the top-flight club they’re capable of being?
Former Penguin and Sportsnet analyst Colby Armstrong appeared on the Marek vs. Wyshynski podcast Tuesday and talked about his old linemate, the Pens’ structure and what makes Crosby tick.
“I like the moves they made,” said Armstrong. “I thought they played scared early in the year. The new coach (Mike Sullivan) brings some structure and accountability, and not just accountability to the way they play but to his big guys. You see Crosby doing much better now with five goals in five games, he’s playing on his toes, he’s involved. I can really see their game coming along.”
Part of the discussion around Pittsburgh’s struggles was the inability of their defence corps to effectively move the puck up to their powerful forward group. Sometimes, Armstrong said, structure should go out the window when you have No. 87 and No. 71 skating up the ice.
“I always think you can give the puck to Sid way more (than he gets it,)” he said. “He’s so good at inviting traffic and coming out of (it.) They played a robotic system (under Johnston) and there wasn’t much flow to their game. I didn’t like the way Sid was playing — he was throwing the puck away a lot. I can see he’s got that swagger back now. He’s really got it cookin’.
“I think Sullivan challenges (Crosby and Malkin) and you can see it in their game now. I think they feed off that being competitive guys. I picture Crosby playing his best hockey when he’s upset, when he’s mad, when he’s involved.”
Jeff Marek and Greg Wyshynski asked Armstrong about being the kind of role player that might push a superstar when he’s in a funk — whether it be a shove or simply in jest. Do teammates hold their superstars accountable despite not having their skill set?
“It’d be nice for you to get one every once in a while!” Armstrong joked, pretending to tease Crosby. “That’s what the boys do and what I miss about the game the most. The stuff in the room with the fellas.
“I can relate to the young guys in that room. I got called up to a team with John LeClair and Mark Recchi and Lyle Odelein — Mario Lemieux was kickin’ around the room. I was intimidated, I grew up watching those guys. I can see coming into a room like that as a young guy and (saying) ‘Holy smokes, what am I doing here?'”
The Penguins are 4-5-1 in their past 10 games and sit two points out of the last wild card playoff spot in the Metropolitan Division. Crosby has seven points in his past five games.