By Sean Hartnett
» More Columns
Sidney Crosby is dominating the San Jose Sharks and they can’t take it.
Through two Stanley Cup Final games, the Pittsburgh Penguins’ superstar has been a cool customer, while the Sharks have been anything but, resorting instead to crying foul.
Following the Penguins’ 2-1 overtime win in Game 2 on Wednesday, Sharks center Logan Couture openly complained to the media about Crosby getting preferential treatment from officials at the faceoff circle.
“He cheats and he gets away with it,” Couture told reporters following the game. “He’s Sidney Crosby. He times them and (the officials) don’t kick him out for some reason — probably because of who he is.”
Crosby isn’t cheating. Any NHL center knows it’s their job to use whatever edge possible to win draws. It’s about knowing the tendencies of the officials and opponents.
“Listen, all centers that go in there and take faceoffs, they’re trying to get an edge,” Pens head coach Mike Sullivan said on Thursday. “That’s just the reality of it. They’re doing the same things our guys are doing. The way I look at it, that’s all part of being a center iceman, trying to figure out a way to get an edge and be successful. Sid isn’t doing anything their guys aren’t doing. Quite honestly, it really isn’t worthy of a response. As I said before, my main focus is on our group and on our mindset going into this Game 3. We want to make sure that we focus on the task at hand.”
Earlier this season I chatted one-on-one with Rangers center Derick Brassard about the art of winning faceoffs. The key is in the little details, focusing on what you see on the ice, discussing it with teammates and constantly studying film.
“I think it comes with experience,” Brassard told WFAN.com in November. “Knowing the other centers, watching some of the top guys taking draws. I don’t think it has anything to do with strength. You just be smarter where you position your stick depending on who you’re facing.
“You want to start with the puck. You want to be attacking. You don’t want to be defending,” Brassard added. “There’s so many different factors in faceoffs — there’s knowing the refs, having a good relationship with them, knowing their tendencies. When I watch games, I always pay attention to those things.”
Brassard said that he and veteran center Dominic Moore review footing of opposing centers before every game. They search not only for tendencies but also flaws to exploit.
“Faceoffs are all about making good adjustments,” Moore said. “You have to put the work in to get better at faceoffs. There’s a ton of things that go into it — knowing your strengths and weaknesses, knowing your opponents, timing, all those things make a difference. It’s helpful to talk about it and have a little feedback.”
Through two series games, Crosby has won 65 percent of faceoffs. In Game 2, the Pittsburgh captain won 17 of 24, good for 70.8 percent and 11 of 16 (68.7 percent) in the offensive zone.
Crosby is just far and away the most dominant player in this league. The Sharks can’t stop him and they’re resorting to every trick in the book to get under his skin. The problem is it’s not working. You’ve seen Crosby lash out and lose his cool against the Rangers in past playoff meetings. He became unfocused and unraveled. This time around, he’s demonstrating newfound maturity by not retaliating. He didn’t react at all when Joe Thornton punched off his helmet and cross-checked him in the back.
Couture definitely believes there’s something to be gained by lobbying. It certainly will make officials more aware and cognizant of the tactics Crosby employs at the faceoff dot, but it will also but place the Sharks under scrutiny. That might play right into Crosby’s hands.
I mean, the guy studies all the little details and always seems to be thinking multiple steps ahead of everyone else on the ice. You saw the way he orchestrated the Game 2 overtime winner, moving around teammates like he’s Peyton Manning prior to the snap.
On the fly, Crosby had defensemen Kris Letang and Brian Dumoulin switch sides. Then he won the draw cleanly to Letang who he had moved to the left point. Crosby knew that the Sharks would pressure Letang and leave Conor Sheary open. Letang faked a slapshot, passed off to Sheary and, bang, game over. Call it hockey’s called shot.
Follow Sean on Twitter at @HartnettHockey