Sidney Crosby Shot His Way Out Of Slump

January 2 2016: Pittsburgh Penguins center Sidney Crosby (87) skates out onto the ice after being named the number one star of the game following the Pittsburgh Penguins 5-2 win over the New York Islanders at the Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania (Photo by Justin Berl/Icon Sportswire)
(Photo by Justin Berl/Icon Sportswire)

When Sidney Crosby finished October with one goal and five points through 11 games, the hockey world was collectively stunned. Everyone watched as he went pointless through his first five contests, wondering when No. 87 would punch through and start to produce like the generational talent he is.

On October 20, Crosby scored a goal and added two assists against the Toronto Maple Leafs. Pittsburgh Penguins fans took a deep breath and seemed to believe that the slump was over. Crosby proceeded to go five more games without scoring, and had six more goal-less contests after breaking that drought.

Crosby finished the first two months of the season with five goals and 10 assists through 23 games played. Not awful numbers by any stretch, but it wasn’t what fans are used to seeing from Crosby. Things got so bad in Pittsburgh that the organization decided to fire Mike Johnston on December 13. It wasn’t difficult to see the reasoning behind the move after the axe fell.

Pittsburgh was supposed to be an offensive juggernaut after acquiring Phil Kessel over the summer, but the team struggled to score goals on a consistent basis. Oddly enough, the arrival of Kessel seems partially to blame for Crosby’s sluggish start.

13 October 2015: Pittsburgh Penguins right wing Phil Kessel (81) and Pittsburgh Penguins center Sidney Crosby (87) skate together during the first period in the NHL game between the Montreal Canadiens and the Pittsburgh Penguins at the Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Jeanine Leech/Icon Sportswire)

When he is at his absolute best, Crosby takes a good number of shots and can keep defenses guessing by firing the puck several times a game. He generates opportunities, creates rebounds and makes himself a threat at all times, regardless of who is on the ice with him. Sometimes it seems like the offense comes despite who he is playing with.

With Kessel on his wing, Crosby seemed hesitant to take shots that he would have taken in years gone by. Instead of getting pucks to the net and creating chances, he was delegating shooting duties to his new linemate. Through the first 20 games of 2015-16, Crosby took just 52 shots — or an average of 2.6 per game. When he scored 51 goals in 2009-10, Crosby took 3.7 shots per game on average.

It’s fair to point out that he hasn’t taken that many shots since, but even last year saw Crosby take an average of three shots per game.

On November 23, something clicked for the center. He fired nine shots on goal against the St. Louis Blues and he’s increased his shooting rate since then. In his last 17 contests, Crosby has been taking an average of 3.6 shots per contest and it’s a large reason why his numbers have realigned with out expectations.

He’s been especially effective lately, scoring five goals in his last five games while taking 20 shots — or 18 percent of his total on the season to this point.

Now that Crosby is playing like himself again, let’s set some reasonable expectations for the forward.

If he continues to shoot 3.6 times per game, he’ll take 162 shots on goal between now and the end of the regular season. If he converts on 14.2 percent of those chances — his career shooting percentage — then Crosby will score at least 11 more goals, bringing his total to 22 on the year. That’s barring any random five-point outbursts, injuries and whatnot.

Regardless of where Crosby’s individual point total lands, Penguins fans have to  be pleased with how well he has been playing over the last few weeks. He seemed timid and uncharacteristically hesitant while in the offensive zone in October and November. Maybe he was over-thinking things and trying to force the plays to Kessel. Maybe it was simply a rough patch that became over-analyzed because Sidney Crosby is Sidney Crosby.

Whatever was holding him back before isn’t any more though, and the Penguins are going to be a team worth keeping an eye as their stars align and Marc-Andre Fleury returns from injury.

All statistics appear courtesy of ESPN.com and are accurate through games played on January 3.

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