Pressure is mounting for Penguins’ superstar Sidney Crosby as the postseason plays on. He responded by burying the OT winner in Game 2 but both Crosby and fellow superstar Evgeni Malkin have been held off the score sheet far too often as of late and with the Penguins’ depth players cooling off, they need these two to heat up.
Pittsburgh’s HBK line, which consists of Carl Hagelin, Nick Bonino and Phil Kessel has carried the offensive load to this point. How long can they be expected to keep up this production, though?
Or, the bigger question might be, how do you get both Crosby and Malkin going offensively?
Malkin with Crosby. Great scoring chance. Wonder if Sullivan is going to go to that more often. Doesn't always work, but should be dynamic.
— Dan Rosen (@drosennhl) May 17, 2016
The above narrative is echoed throughout the hockey world. Any time the suggestion of playing Malkin alongside Crosby surfaces, it’s followed by something along the lines of “it doesn’t always work”. They defer too often, try to make pretty plays and look as if they’re more interested in globe-trotter hockey than actually producing, right?
Not so much.
Penguins’ head coach Mike Sullivan put Malkin on Crosby’s wing Monday night and Pittsburgh almost immediately reaped the benefits of that move…
Without Andrei Vasilevskiy’s desperation save, Crosby buries one early and Game 2 has a completely different look. The two of them created a few more chances as Sullivan continued to unite them periodically, but it isn’t happening enough. In fact, their time-on-ice together totaled only one-minute and 22-seconds.
It’s time we squash the idea that Crosby and Malkin don’t play well together.
The Numbers Don’t Lie
I know that stats don’t tell the whole story. Trust me, I get that. There are plenty of variables that need considered, especially when it comes to Crosby and Malkin. However, their results tell an undeniable story about how well they work together as a tandem.
Throughout 2015-16 the two of them only shared the ice for a total of 30 minutes of even-strength play. They did not score in that span but they accounted for over 64-percent of shot-attempts with 44 total. Or, in other words, they averaged over 87 shot attempts per 60 minutes of play.
Now, consider their even-strength numbers as a tandem since 2010…
They account for 58.9-percent of goals and 63.1-percent of shot attempts. They also score at a rate of 4.44 goals per 60 minutes. It’s nearly impossible to find an issue with their overall performance together.
One argument that you’ll often hear is that they’re normally only together when the Penguins are trailing, which means score effects play a large role in their production. That may be true, but the sample size is large enough to show that these two are effective alongside each other no matter what situation they’re in.
In this Lightning series, with players like Conor Sheary and Chris Kunitz slowing down considerably, it’s time for the two-headed monster to get more looks.
Set Your Big Guns Up for Success
Both of these star centers have been scrutinized since their production fell off during the Capitals series in round two. It’s important to remember that scoring in the playoffs isn’t easy and essentially everyone is streaky when it comes to postseason production. Consider the following information from Adam Gretz of CBS Sports.
I know I have beaten this subject into the ground, but … fight me. Playoff goal scoring isn't easy. pic.twitter.com/xRgT8pfx3b
— Adam Gretz (@AGretz) May 16, 2016
The right side of that chart is very telling, as it represents the number of goal droughts experienced by some of the top names in today’s NHL and as you’ll see, there are plenty of them. However, the Penguins aren’t doing themselves any favors by keeping struggling wingers like Kunitz and Sheary alongside Crosby and Malkin.
Let them help each other.
Far too often, we’re seeing the two of them create an opportunity that is eventually squandered by one of their struggling line mates. I’m not knocking Sheary or Kunitz, as the two of them have played very well down the stretch and into the postseason. Right now though, they’re doing more harm than good.
It’s tough to argue results, and the Penguins tied the series off the stick of Crosby in overtime on Monday night. It probably didn’t have to come to that but either way, they got the job done. Will Sullivan start uniting the two-headed monster more often? Their limited ice time at even-strength seemed to spark something in Game 2. If Sullivan decides to use the two of them more often, it could mean big trouble for Tampa Bay.
Pittsburgh won’t, and shouldn’t separate the HBK line so in order to get these guys rolling, it’s time to pair them up and let them do some damage.