Dan Bylsma would love for the questions to stop.
But when they concern his best player, superstar Sidney Crosby, the Pittsburgh Penguins coach knows the queries will be a daily occurrence until Crosby puts the puck in the net.
Crosby hasn’t done that in the 2014 Stanley Cup playoffs, and the dry spell has not yet caused major headaches for the Penguins.
Pittsburgh is down 1-0 in the Eastern Conference semifinal against the New York Rangers, with Game 2 on Sunday night at the Consol Energy Center. Crosby got his scoring chances in the opening round against the Columbus Blue Jackets — he had a role in 27 at even-strength by the Penguins’ count — but against a tougher opponent in the Rangers, it’s difficult to imagine life on the ice will get ay easier for Crosby.
“Sometimes, I think (observers) want the game to be decided just by Sidney Crosby scoring a goal and that hasn’t been the case,” Bylsma said on Saturday. “Really, it’s no more than about winning for us and about winning for Sid. We did that in the first round and (on Friday night in Game 1 against the Rangers) we did not.
“We are down 1-0 against (the Rangers) and those questions are going to come. From that standpoint, I understand them.”
Crosby, who did not speak to media as the Penguins held an optional practice, jokingly said during the series against Columbus that he hoped he did not look like someone who needed counselling. You have to wonder, though, if Crosby feels like resorting to some unusual measures to break out of his funk. He has discussed the confidence that comes from getting chances, no matter that those opportunities haven’t resulted in goals. It’s true that there likely would be clear frustration for the 26-year-old if he was generating little in the offensive zone.
Yet in the big picture, it’s not pretty.
In the post-season, dating to last spring, Crosby has gone 12 games without a goal; more recently, he has just two goals in the Penguins’ past 17 games (seven in the playoffs and 10 in the regular season), and those were scored in the same match, on March 30 against the Chicago Blackhawks.
Consider that only once in his NHL career during the regular season has Crosby played in 12 consecutive games without scoring, and that came in 2011-12.
“I don’t think anyone’s really worried about Sid,” Crosby linemate Lee Stempniak said. “He’s setting up plays. He draws so many guys that it creates room for Chris (Kunitz) and me. I know it’s going to come. It’s on us to step up and use that extra ice and make plays too.”
What are the prevalent aspects of Crosby’s game when he is a force?
“I have always talked about Sid being the best grinder in the game,” Bylsma said. “When he is playing at his best (it’s) grinding on pucks in the offensive zone, using his speed through the neutral zone and driving hard.”
Crosby was a handful for the Jackets toward the end of the opening round, compiling six assists overall, but he did not have much of an impact versus the Rangers in the opener. The microscope on Crosby grew in intensity when he was minus-3 and won only six draws.
Full respect for the Penguins’ depth, but if they hope to win four games against New York to advance, Crosby probably will have to beat goalie Henrik Lundqvist at some point.
Rangers coach Alain Vigneault wasn’t about to give Crosby anything to pin to the dressing room bulletin board.
“He made it real hard on us (in Game 1),” Vigneault said. “They had some transition looks, some looks down low.
“He’s an elite player who is real tough to handle and we’re going to need a lot of help to stop him.”
Meanwhile, Penguins defenceman Brooks Orpik, who has missed the past three games with an undisclosed injury, was on the ice at the team’s facility in nearby Canonsburg, but Bylsma refused to update Orpik’s status.
It’s the kind of power outage that can drain a hockey coach.
The New York Rangers managed to eliminate the Philadelphia Flyers in the opening round of the 2014 Stanley Cup playoffs with a pop-gun power play and there was no fire with the man advantage in Game 1 against the Pittsburgh Penguins, as the Rangers didn’t score on four chances.
Heading into Game 2 of the Eastern Conference semifinal versus the Penguins, the Rangers are riding an 0-for-25 skid on the power play. Overall, the Rangers have three goals in 33 chances with the extra man, at 9.1% the lowest success rate of the teams remaining in the playoffs.
“You have trust your players are going to find a way to get it done,” Rangers coach Alain Vigneault said. “It’s a topic. To win games (consistently), all parts of your game have to be going. I do believe you (don’t have to) score on your power play and can still build momentum.”