The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

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February 18, 2014

Canadians not worried about scoreless Crosby

SOCHI, Russia — When Sidney Crosby went through the entire preliminary round of the Olympic men’s hockey tournament without scoring a goal, it set off waves of concern back home.

Canadians should know better than anybody that Crosby is more into big Olympic finishes.

“I think you always want more,” Crosby said when asked if he was doing enough for Canada. “If you asked me that question a month ago, I’d have said, ‘I’d like to create more.’ It’s the same way now. You always want to generate offense, create chances, and obviously put the puck in the net.”

During its two days off before today’s quarterfinal game, the Canadian team reacted with a collective shrug when asked about Crosby’s no-goal performance so far in Sochi.

The NHL’s top scorer has two assists while playing with a rotating cast of wings, and coach Mike Babcock appeared ready to shake it up again Tuesday, perhaps reuniting Crosby with his much-criticized Pittsburgh teammate, Chris Kunitz.

That’s normal tinkering in a short tournament, Babcock said. The coach isn’t concerned about his star center, and he laughs at anybody who thinks Crosby won’t score when the games really count.

“The first line has generated a ton of scoring chances, point-blankers,” Babcock said. “They haven’t gone in. Do we worry that much about that, or do we just know good players score in the end? Lots of times in the Stanley Cup playoffs, your team goes a ways and your best players have no points in the first round. Someone else picks them up. But by the time it’s all over, they’re leading the thing in scoring. It’s not about that. It’s about finding a way to be the best team.”

Canada won all three of its preliminary-round games, going to overtime against Finland. The defending Olympic champions finished with the No. 3 seed in the quarterfinals.

Even if Crosby never scores another Olympic goal – an incredibly unlikely scenario – he’ll always be beloved in Canada for his gold medal-winning overtime score four years ago.

Back at his second Olympics, Crosby is Canada’s captain after Scott Niedermayer had the leadership role in Vancouver.

Babcock doesn’t see leadership or changing linemates slowing down Crosby. In fact, he thinks any concern over Crosby is utter foolishness.

“Everyone evaluates Sid on scoring, and I evaluate Sid on winning,” Babcock said after Canada’s 2-1 overtime victory over Finland, in which both goals were scored by defenseman Drew Doughty.

Although he isn’t filling up the scoresheet, Crosby clearly makes contributions beyond the box score.

He hasn’t been on the ice for any goals by Canada’s opponents, setting an example for his teammates with a responsible two-way game.

Crosby’s chances for goals also have been limited by Canada’s lack of power-play time. The Canadians had just four man-advantages in their three games, leaving Babcock wondering why he’s practicing the power play at all.

Kunitz, who made the team largely on his Penguins-based chemistry with Crosby, has been criticized for his lack of finishing skills in Sochi.

But Kunitz was back with Crosby at practice Tuesday along with Patrice Bergeron, while former Crosby linemate Jamie Benn teamed up with Anaheim Ducks stars Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry.

Crosby acknowledges it’s ideal to play with the same linemates, but true chemistry can’t be built in 12 days by the Black Sea. He’s confident Canada’s lines will enough to contend for its third gold medals in four Olympics, whether or not he’s scoring goals himself.

“I think you’re always aware of who you’re playing with, and what their strengths are,” Crosby said. “But I don’t think it changes what you do out there. I don’t think you really have a chance to overthink too much. ... All the guys here are so good, I think you can just read off each other, no matter who you’re playing with.”

 

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