Pierre LeBrun and Craig Custance look at what Sidney Crosby's performance in his return Monday night not only meant to himself, but how it woke up the entire hockey world.
LeBrun: Good day, Craig. I missed all the NHL action last night as I was getting caught up on my “Glee” episodes I had taped all year. Did anything happen in hockey last night?
I’m kidding, of course, on all counts. I was fixated on the game in Pittsburgh just like many others around the hockey world. And I can tell you it’s rare these days, 17 years into covering this sport, that something happens that cranks up my wow meter. Sidney Crosby piling up two goals and two assists in his return after missing 10-plus months? I just shake my head. Just like I did when he scored in overtime in the 2010 Olympic gold medal game. He’s that player. He delivers on the biggest stage and when the spotlight shines brightest.
So from the Golden Goal in Vancouver to the Comeback Goal just 5:24 into his first game since last Jan. 5, Sid The Kid once again became Sid’s The Story.
Thoughts, my friend?
Custance: He just keeps adding to the Crosby lore. It's incredible, and when you say the hockey world was watching, you're not kidding. I got a call from Sharks coach Todd McLellan last night for a Sharks story I'm hoping to do, and you could hear the amazement in his voice over what Crosby was doing in the first period. Although we were all fixated on Sid, McLellan made an interesting observation: He wasn't just watching No. 87; he was watching the entire Penguins team and he noticed the energy Crosby's teammates were bringing around him.
"The players want to play for him right now," McLellan said. "The team is very energized right now. That's a pretty good indication of what he means to that team."
I think that's been lost a little bit in this entire ordeal. This wasn't just the best player in the world missing serious time; the Penguins were playing without their captain.
Well, he's back and he quickly erased any doubt as to how long it would take him to return to an elite level. I'm sure adrenaline played a big part in it, so there may be a challenge in maintaining that once natural fatigue kicks in, but I don't think anyone could have asked for more.
"He is one talented individual," McLellan said. "He goes out there and shows he can be the best again. His leadership shows through."
And the beauty of last night was that Crosby's return was just one of a few great storylines.
LeBrun: Speaking of the Sharks, winger Ryane Clowe tweeted his amazement during the game: “That #87 is a pretty good player,” Clowe said. All that four-point night did for Crosby was catapult him past 350-odd players in the NHL scoring race; he's now 373rd among 711 listed players after just one night. Or, he's only 11 points behind his rival Alex Ovechkin.
You wonder if Crosby's return maybe won't re-energize the Washington Capitals' captain? I actually thought Ovechkin looked better last night with an assist in a much-needed victory by his struggling team over visiting Phoenix. With 15 points in 19 games, Ovechkin is on pace for 65 points. I'm willing to bet his final tally will be higher than that. Crosby? Our ESPN stats guru Vincent Masi tells us that Crosby, over his last 82 games (including last night), has put up 131 points. That's an average of 1.60 per game -- easily the highest in the league during that stretch, which dates to Jan. 3, 2010. Daniel Sedin is next at 1.30 and brother Henrik is third at 1.22.
If Crosby can remain on that incredible pace, he'd put up 99 points this season in just 62 games. You mentioned earlier, however, that there might be fatigue at some point after the adrenaline fades away. I don't' agree with you. I think Crosby waited this long to return because he wanted to make sure he was 110 percent ready. He's been skating and practicing with his teammates at full speed for more than a month after being cleared for contact in mid-October. I think he's more than ready and I don't see any regression in the offing.
Custance: You may be right, Pierre. I'm done underestimating what Sid can do. I'm with you, I see better days ahead for Alex Ovechkin. The guy I'll be watching closely is Alexander Semin, who spent Monday night's win over the Coyotes in the press box. He might be one of the most frustrating players in the game, and he's not afraid to commit an offensive-zone penalty. But ultimately, the Capitals need him clicking if they're going to reclaim their spot at the top of the Southeast. I'll be very interested to see how Bruce Boudreau handles the situation moving forward, and if the message will be received. Not only was Semin a healthy scratch, but there were four forwards with more ice time than Ovechkin's 18:15. Boudreau didn't get to 200 wins as fast as he did by accident and it's been fascinating watching him manage that team this season.
LeBrun: There was certainly some symmetry that on the same night Crosby’s sensational return gave the Pittsburgh Penguins renewed hopes of contending for the Stanley Cup, Ovechkin and the Caps -- the team always compared to Pittsburgh since the lockout -- faced a game that felt like a playoff test. Boudreau, knowing his job is on the line this season, has taken a harder approach on his team this season and that includes his franchise player, Ovechkin.
Minutes are being earned this season, not given out. Is it the right approach with Ovechkin? Right now you’d have to look at the winger’s play and feel that maybe it isn’t. But what message would that send to the rest of the team if suddenly the free passes come out again for Ovechkin? The kid gloves treatment didn’t work the past few years as Washington failed to get over the playoff hump. So the hardline approach it is.
Custance: The other game that interested me last night was Pete DeBoer's return to Florida. He made it quite clear just how much he wanted to win that game, but I think we might have underestimated how badly the Panthers wanted to beat their former coach. There's some serious chemistry working in south Florida. And not only are the Panthers winning, they're fun to watch.
"We play an up-tempo game," Panthers coach Kevin Dineen said when I shared that opinion with him. "We're pretty assertive on the offensive side of things."
Between the Caps' surprising struggles and Florida's surprising success, the Southeast could be a lot more interesting than we anticipated.
It's shaping up to be a fun season, with Sid's return the latest highlight. It's exciting to be talking about hockey rather than concussions and everything else that's been debated over the last year. Let's hope it continues. Have a great week, Pierre!