It’s time we talked about Sidney Crosby. Crosby is the best hockey player of his generation — and among the best to ever lace up a pair of skates — but he’s been a virtual nonentity on the Penguins’ stat sheet this season. You read that correctly — two-time Art Ross Trophy winner, two-time Maurice “Rocket” Richard Trophy winner, two-time Hart Memorial Trophy winner, and two-time Conn Smythe Trophy winner Sidney Crosby seems to have forgotten how to score.
In his past 11 games, Crosby has scored zero goals, contributed just 3 assists, and has a -9 plus/minus. It’s the second-longest goalless streak of his career — but even during his longest goalless streak in 2011-12, he still dished out 17 assists in those 12 games. More importantly: That streak occurred when he was dealing with recurring concussion symptoms and actually bookends a three-month absence from the team.
In terms of overall production, this is by far the worst 11-game stretch of Crosby’s career. We figured that out using a simple regression that estimates a forward’s goals versus threshold1 based on his scoring stats, plus/minus and time on ice in a given game. Using this metric — which we’ll call “simple goal value,” or SGV — Crosby has been worth 1.1 fewer goals than a replacement-level scrub during this miserable 11-game streak. If you broaden the window slightly beyond his scoreless streak to look at his last 15 games, this has been the only 15-game period of Sid’s entire career where he performed at a below-replacement clip.
Of course, Crosby’s résumé as one of the greatest to ever play the game means that he is often held to an unrealistic standard. But his relatively precipitous dip begs the question: Are any NHL superstars slump-proof?
Looking at the top 20 scorers whose careers started after the 2005 lockout, seven of them had an 11-game stretch that was worse than Crosby’s current skid at some point in their careers. (Crosby’s current teammate, Phil Kessel, had an 11-game streak with Toronto in 2015 where he notched only 3 points and posted a -16 plus/minus.) And now that Crosby has finally joined the club, every single player on the list can gripe about at least one 15-game run where their SGV was below replacement:
|STATS DURING 15-GAME SLUMP|
So, a streak like this isn’t all that uncommon, even among the league’s cadre of great players. But it’s still worth dissecting what’s wrong with Sid the Kid during this particular slump.
For starters, the Penguins just aren’t lighting the lamp when Crosby is on the ice. In 19 games this season, they’ve scored only 23 goals during his shifts, and 14 of those have been on the power play. At 5-on-5, they’re notching only 1.5 goals per 60 minutes with Crosby in the game, which ranks 12th-worst among forwards who’ve logged at least 200 minutes. And defensively, the numbers have somehow been even worse — the Pens are yielding a staggering 4.4 goals per 60 minutes with Crosby on the ice during 5-on-5 play. Among that same group of qualified forwards, only his fellow Penguin Conor Sheary ranks worse. (It’s beginning to seem like the Pens have some defensive issues.)
But the more troubling sign for Crosby is that he’s just not generating the same level of possession metrics we’ve been accustomed to seeing from him over the years. Crosby’s expected +/- — the plus/minus rating we’d expect a player to have based on the volume and quality of shots his team (and opponents) took while he was on the ice — is easily the worst of his career so far in 2017. For the past three seasons,2 Crosby’s expected +/- has hovered around 15, but in 2017 it has dipped below zero. And it’s not just a quirk of one model: Crosby’s expected goals +/- at Corsica Hockey has also been in the red. Which is to say that, remarkably, in 2017, Crosby’s play appears to be hurting the Pittsburgh Penguins.
To Crosby’s credit, he seems unfazed by his scoring dearth. “No matter who you’re playing against, just try to keep doing the right things and trust they’ll go in,” he told NHL.com.
But it’s not like Crosby hasn’t had chances to score: In 2017, 61 percent of his possessions have begun in the offensive zone. That’s good for the second-highest percentage of his career, trailing only last year. The number of faceoffs you take in opposing territory can have an immense effect on your possession rates, so Crosby doesn’t have much of an excuse for not not converting some of those scoring opportunities into goals.
During a season where goals are up and goaltending is down, you’d expect the most prolific scorer of his generation to be reaping the benefits — but so far, Crosby has been a ghost. As a result, his Penguins are reeling — they’ve lost more games than they’ve won, and if they hope to win a third consecutive Stanley Cup, they’ll need their captain to score some goals. Although some of Crosby’s woes will probably reverse themselves eventually, Pittsburgh will hold its collective breath until that happens.