Crosby Doesn't Need A Winger
It wasn’t long ago that hockey pundits wondered if Pittsburgh Penguins center Sidney Crosby had the ability to make those around him better.
Sure, he was a dynamite player on his own, making unbelievable plays and performing magic tricks that would shame David Copperfield.
But if a center can’t make his wingers better, is he really worthy of being called the best in the game?
The answer is “no,” and Crosby knew this.
So, just as he worked on his defensive game, his shot, and his faceoff skills, Crosby began working on using his linemates for more than just the occasional tap-in or re-direct.
The result was a unique chemistry with two undrafted players: a former healthy scratch third liner and a gritty second liner whose forte was creating space, not creating offense.
The line of Crosby, Pascal Dupuis, and Chris Kunitz seemed unlikely to succeed early in the 2010-11 season, but quickly shut up its detractors.
Prior to suffering his well-documented concussion/neck injury on January 1 of that season, Crosby already had amassed 66 points through 41 games (1.61 points per game), good enough to allow him to finish 32nd in league points, despite not playing another game.
He was at that point, playing the best hockey of his career with two “outcast” wingers on his line.
Fast forward to the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season, where we sit 28 games in. Crosby has 47 points through 28 games (1.68 points per game) and is playing the best hockey we’ve seen from any player in years — quite possibly since Mario Lemieux was the star in Pittsburgh.
But what’s even more amazing than Crosby’s performance is the chemistry he’s developed with his “oddball” linemates.
Kunitz, whose career best year in points came last year when he tallied 61, has 39 points in 28 games and is second in the league in scoring (behind his star center, of course). He’s on pace to surpass his career high in points, despite playing in a lockout shortened season.
Dupuis also had a career year last year, tallying 25 goals and 34 assists for 59 points, and while his 19 points to date aren’t putting him on pace to surpass last year’s total, his current pace of .4 goals per game (the highest of his career) should put him at roughly 23 to finish the season. One big game and he easily could surpass last year’s 25, despite a shortened season.
Two things have become obvious with the Crosby, Kunitz, Dupuis line:
1. Crosby has learned how to elevate the games of those around him. While Kunitz and Dupuis had career years last year, largely without Crosby, they have ramped up their offensive production even more with a healthy Crosby as their center. In the past, that might not have been the case, as we saw a rotating door of wingers who couldn’t cut it with the world’s best player.
2. The ever-popular “find a winger for Sid” request no longer is valid. Crosby has found his wingers. While they might not be the “sexy” candidates to flank is wings, Kunitz and Dupuis have developed a chemistry with Crosby that supersedes talent. It’s the classic example of the sum being greater than the parts.