SOCHI, Russia – The last goal Sidney Crosby scored in a Team Canada sweater instantly went into the pantheon of the best our country has ever produced. We call it the "Golden Goal."
That he hasn’t scored another three games into the Sochi Olympic tournament seems to be a problem for some. And that is a problem in itself.
To even start measuring Crosby’s impact on this team by the number under the "G" column is to only see part of the picture. Mike Babcock couldn’t have been more right when he said "Everyone evaluates Sid on scoring and I evaluate Sid on winning" after Sunday’s 2-1 overtime win over Finland.
Yes, his ever-changing line isn’t lighting up the scoring list at this tournament. That is an undeniable talking point. But to truly evaluate Crosby we must step back and consider what his impact is on this team.
So let’s start here: He hasn’t been on the ice for a goal against. That is even more important at this kind of tournament than your typical NHL game because what Team Canada is facing right now is three consecutive Game 7s – assuming, of course, that it can handle the obstacles along the way.
As a result, this event will be won or lost on a mistake. And when you dream of gold you can’t afford to make one. It is the most diligent – and occasionally the luckiest – country that successfully gets through this unpredictable and incredible challenge.
Do you know how you accomplish that? You sacrifice a player like Crosby. The dirty little secret of the Olympic men’s hockey tournament is that the top line has to essentially be turned into a shutdown line.
The only thing more important than Crosby scoring in Sochi is that the best players on the other teams don’t score when he is on the ice. That’s how it works. Look at the Americans and Russians – arguably the favourites here at the end of the round robin – and how they have found success so far.
Alex Ovechkin, Evgeni Malkin and Patrick Kane aren’t scoring all that much for their countries, either. Those are world-class players and big-moment performers. Just like Crosby.
The job of the top line at the Olympics is to match the unbelievable level of competition and to sacrifice personal glory. Is there anyone in Vancouver or Winnipeg or St. John’s that thinks for a second Crosby doesn’t care about the result here?
This is a man who would gladly go through a tournament like this with zero goals and zero assists to win a gold medal. He would. I know him and I know his character. In fact, I spoke privately with one of his teammates here who told me that he doesn’t think he can keep up with Crosby.
This is Team Canada and this is the Olympics and at least one guy who plays on this team is willing to admit to a reporter that he probably can’t match the level of No. 87 even for one single shift. There are certainly others that feel the same way.
Given that fact, and as we debate who Crosby’s linemates should be or how good he’s been playing, shouldn’t we at least consider what happens down the lineup when he plays?
It gives Jonathan Toews the chance to be a second-line centre. Heck, it gives Ryan Getzlaf the opportunity to be on a third line and John Tavares the opportunity to be on a fourth line – although Babcock, quite rightly and fairly, has declined to place numbers on his units.
This is the deepest team in hockey right now and it is in a dogfight to prove it is also the best. The road to gold, most likely, goes through the Swiss (quarters), Americans (semis) and Russians (final).
What an opportunity and what a challenge. The Swiss are pesky, the Americans are hungry and the Russians are after history. Oh, and Crosby is the best hockey player in this entire tournament.
"You’ve got to come here and compete and each team is different and each game is different and this Olympics is different from the last one," Babcock said. "You’ve got to find a way to play within the rules of this game and the size of the sheet and figure out a way to play and have success. Scoring isn’t easy."
Nothing comes easy when you are the first-line centre, the captain and arguably the highest-regarded individual in all of Canada. There aren’t even enough power plays in these games to get easy points. But if you are willing to lay it all on the line and let Toews and Drew Doughty bask in the glory while you are neutralizing the top opponents in the process, then you might just get another gold medal placed around your neck at the end of this unbelievable event.
At its fundamental and beautiful core, that is what this sport is all about. "We before me," as Russian captain Pavel Datsyuk so delightfully put it the other day.
There is a burden for Crosby when he pulls on his national team sweater. He would never acknowledge it, but it is there. The man already owns a place in our mythology, our story, and even the best of the best will never truly live up to that standard.
However, it is our duty as Canadians to recognize what greatness is and react accordingly.