By: Adam Gretz
One of the biggest questions heading into Monday's Penguins and Islanders game was the number of minutes Sidney Crosby would play. The early estimates started off as low as 12 or 13, while it was pretty much a given that he wouldn't see anywhere near the 20 or 21 minutes he's averaged throughout his career.
When all was said and done, Crosby ended up playing a total of 15 minutes and 54 seconds over 21 shifts.
Here's how it looked:
Even-Strength Ice Time (11:29) -- When the Penguins acquired James Neal last season it was pretty much assumed that it was done for the purpose of eventually putting him with Crosby. And who knows, that may very well happen at some point. But with the way Neal has developed chemistry with Evgeni Malkin and Steve Sullivan, the Penguins are apparently in no hurry to break up a line that's working. So for the majority of his 21 shifts on Monday, Crosby centered the Penguins' top line between wingers Chris Kunitz and Pascal Dupuis, as he has done throughout much of the previous two seasons. During those 11 minutes he recorded seven shots on goal (an incredible rate), scoring both of his goals, while also assisting on Brooks Orpik's second goal of the season. He also managed to draw a penalty when Milan Jurcina was sent off for cross-checking in the first period.
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Power Play Ice Time (4:23) -- During the Penguins' four power plays Bylsma responded each time by sending Crosby's unit out there to open the shift in the offensive zone. The Penguins power play, which struggled to score goals last season and through their opening round playoff loss to Tampa Bay, ended up finishing the night 1-for-4 with Crosby assisting on Malkin's power play tally at the 3:17 mark of the second period.
Faceoffs And Zone Starts -- When asked how conscious he was of where Crosby's shifts were starting, Penguins coach Dan Bylsma responded with, "I wasn't that conscious of that situation, more of the opponent he was playing against. However, he was winning a lot of his draws and When we could get him out there in that situation to win draws we did do that. He ends the game winning 15 of his draws, that's a lot. He picked up kind of where he left so we were using him in that situation."
Crosby ended the night winning 15 of his 21 faceoffs, a success rate of over 67 percent. This is one area of his game that Crosby made huge improvements in over the past two seasons and Bylsma utilized him in all three zones:
Offensive Zone Faceoffs: Seven (4-for-7 on faceoffs)
Neutral Zone Faceoffs: Six (5-for-6 on faceoffs)
Defensive Zone Faceoffs: Eight (6-for-8 on faceoffs)
Given that the Penguins were the home team and had the last line change, they were able to dictate who was out there against him for the most part, and did a good job of having him avoid New York's top defenseman, Mark Streit, as well as avoiding the Islanders' best defensive forward, Frans Nielsen, during even strength situations.
His most common opponent in the faceoff circle was Josh Bailey, whom he beat on four of eight draws. He was 5-for-5 against Nielsen, with all of them coming on the power play, and 4-for-6 against Marty Reasoner.