Penguins’ Crosby trusts process amid pointless streak

Evgeni Malkin and Olli Maatta scored first-period goals and the Pittsburgh Penguins held on for a 2-1 victory over the Toronto Maple Leafs on Saturday night.

PITTSBURGH — Had Phil Kessel backhanded a shot into an open net like he normally would 99 out of 100 times, no one is talking about Sidney Crosby‘s goose egg.

Had just one puck bounced differently or Craig Anderson not made a five-alarm save or the Pittsburgh Penguins power play been remotely as effective as it should be then Crosby wouldn’t be facing a new personal mark for futility.

But that’s not how the 2015-16 campaign has started.

Crosby is still looking for his first point of the season after five games, matching the longest stretch of his NHL career without finding the scoresheet.

It’s been a mix of some bad luck with stretches of uncharacteristically poor play — particularly when he failed to register a shot in either of Pittsburgh’s first two games. He’s managed eight on net in the three games since, and would have had an assist in Saturday’s 2-1 win over Toronto if Kessel finished off a deke move after taking a pass from the Penguins captain.

“You look at Sid’s overall game — 200 feet — I thought it was a real solid game for him,” coach Mike Johnston said afterwards. “I know he (looks) off on the stats sheet, but end to end … that’s a positive sign.”

It’s still an unfamiliar position for Crosby, a two-time NHL scoring champion and the owner of the fifth-best points per game rate in league history.

There’s clearly been a feeling-out process with Kessel and longtime linemate Chris Kunitz. Perhaps that trio will even be broken up ahead of Tuesday’s game against Florida.

Johnston is promising changes to a power play that is 0-for-18 so far despite also featuring Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang.

For his part, Crosby is encouraged by the way he’s responded since being held without a shot in the games at Dallas and Arizona. He believes some good fortune will arrive soon.

“It’s more about the process,” Crosby told Sportsnet. “You want to feel good about your game, and definitely the first two games I don’t know if I did. But (since then) I feel like I’m generating a bit more and as a line I think we’re getting a little bit more in synch.

“To be honest, as long as the process and the way you’re playing is there, you trust the puck’s going to go in.”

The only other time he went five games without registering a point was early in the 2009-10 season. His current drought officially sits at six games, but going pointless in the final game of last season doesn’t have any bearing on what is happening now.

Even though Crosby’s best offensive seasons are likely behind him — he turned 28 in August — there’s nothing to suggest that he’s on the verge of a precipitous decline. He was third in league scoring last year, after all.

The Leafs certainly felt fortunate to keep him at bay on Saturday night.

“He looks like the same guy I’ve seen,” said defenceman Jake Gardiner. “He probably could have had five or six points tonight.”

“You may find this hard to believe: I just said ‘hi’ to Sid coming in (to the arena), I haven’t spent a whole lot of time worrying about Sid,” added coach Mike Babcock. “I think he’ll be just fine.”

Especially once he gets that elusive first point.

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