The Pittsburgh Penguins had a rough Monday night, losing their superstar center Sidney Crosby after a hit to the head by Washington Capitals defenseman Matt Niskanen, then losing Game 3 of their Eastern Conference semifinal series in overtime. Tuesday afternoon was arguably even worse, as news arrived that Crosby was diagnosed with a concussion and ruled out of Thursday’s Game 4:
Crosby’s loss can’t be overstated. In terms of individual numbers, he stands toe-to-toe with Washington’s Alex Ovechkin as the best player of the NHL’s post-lockout generation. But even more than his own production, Crosby also brings the best out of the Penguins’ offense while he’s on the ice. Over the span of his career (since 2005-06), here’s how Pittsburgh’s stats change when Crosby plays versus when he sits:
|WITH CROSBY||WITHOUT CROSBY||DIFFERENCE|
|Goals per game||3.15||2.94||-0.21|
|Power-play goals per game||0.81||0.74||-0.07|
|Shots per game||31.1||30.9||-0.2|
|Goals against per game||2.8||2.64||-0.16|
|Shots against per game||30.1||28.8||-1.3|
Although the Pens have traditionally fared slightly better defensively in games Crosby missed, they’ve struggled to replace him on offense, producing fewer shots and shooting the puck less accurately when their star sits out. Those differences become even more stark when you look at what happens when he’s on the ice. Pittsburgh’s shots and goals per minute improve sharply with Crosby on the ice — no player of his generation has wielded a bigger influence on his team’s scoring than Sid the Kid.
Now, the Penguins will be without that offensive leadership for at least one game, and possibly many more. (This isn’t the first time Crosby has missed time with a head injury; he sat out 101 games in 2010-11 and 2011-12 while fending off concussion symptoms, and he missed time with a concussion earlier this season as well.)
Prior to this week’s injury, the reigning Stanley Cup champions had been cruising through the playoffs and seemed on their way to dispatching the Capitals for the second-straight year. It’s up to Crosby’s teammates to prevent this from being the turning point the Capitals needed to claw their way back into the series.