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Sidney Crosby’s goal hides warts for Penguins in Edmonton

November 12, 2018

The overtime goal Sidney Crosby scored Tuesday night in Edmonton was one of his most jaw-dropping plays ever.

It asserted Crosby’s place again in the hierarchy of the sport’s greatest stars.

It also made for some pretty decent wallpaper.

Crosby’s magnificent goal covered over another deficient defensive effort for the Pittsburgh Penguins, who still are trying to find their stride when playing away from the puck.

Here are five things we learned from Tuesday night’s game.

1. ‘D’ takes step back

The stifling defensive effort the Penguins turned in last Thursday in Toronto wasn’t the start of a trend.

In that game, the Penguins played with structure in the neutral zone and a commitment to avoid risky offensive plays in an effort to give up fewer scoring chances. On Tuesday night, they were back to playing fast and loose with the puck in their 6-5 victory.

They gave up 46 shots, running their average to 36.0 shots allowed per game, fourth-worst in the NHL.

The Penguins have the offensive talent to win even while not playing their sharpest game, but it will make for some ugly moments in the defensive zone until they find it.

2. Big minus for Johnson

Jack Johnson was on the ice for all five goals the Oilers scored.

All five goals can’t be pinned on Johnson, of course. Allowing goals is a team effort. Still, it’s a results-based business, and fishing five pucks out of the back of his net is a bad look.

When Johnson was on the ice Tuesday night, the Oilers outshot the Penguins, 15-7. The easiest way to turn his game around would be to flip those numbers and help the team’s possession efforts instead of hurting them.

3. Huge contribution

Jamie Oleksiak had a giant game.

Oleksiak, on the other hand, helped the Penguins’ possession efforts. When he was on the ice at even strength, the Penguins had a 17-12 shot-attempt advantage.

He thrived in the offensive zone, jumping up into the rush and scoring twice. He also recorded five hits and picked up the team’s first fighting major of the season, pulling the jersey of Edmonton’s Zack Kassian over his head before the linesmen stepped in to end a first-period bout.

It was a game filled with notable individual performances for the Penguins. Most memorably, Crosby and Patric Hornqvist erased the zeroes next to their names in the goal column this season by scoring twice apiece. Still, Oleksiak’s two-goal showing wasn’t overshadowed.

4. Finding a way

The Penguins are sitting pretty in standings.

Maybe it’s just luck. More likely, it’s because they have a roster full of experienced players who know how to get outs even when they don’t have their best fastball. Whatever the reason, the Penguins have found a way to get results so far this season.

When they got into track meets against Washington and Edmonton, they won in overtime. When they struggled at Montreal and at home against Vancouver, they managed to not lose in regulation.

Despite not playing well consistently, the Penguins are 4-1-2, one point behind Metropolitan Division-leading Carolina despite having played two fewer games.

That’s the kind of record that will buy plenty of time to smooth over the rough edges of their game.

5. Another trophy for Crosby?

It might be time to revisit that Selke Trophy talk for Crosby.

When Crosby and McDavid were on the ice together five-on-five Tuesday night, the Penguins had a 19-10 advantage over the Oilers in shot attempts. When Crosby and Auston Matthews were on the ice together in Toronto, the Penguins held an 8-4 shot-attempt advantage.

In a span of six days, Crosby took the two most dynamic young scorers in the league and essentially rendered them moot by making them play in the defensive zone way more than they’d like.

Given his offensive accomplishments, it would be silly to call Crosby a checking center. But he’s a darn good one anyway.

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