By Larry Wigge
They say that Sidney Crosby was like the compass of the Pittsburgh Penguins.
You know, nowhere to go and ...
The Penguins were 12th in the Eastern Conference on December 12 and has just replaced coach Mike Johnston with Mike Sullivan. Six months later to the day, you're a Stanley Cup champion. What was the big difference?
"After a coaching change, I think everyone takes that personal, puts the responsibility on their shoulders to be better," Crosby explained. "I think individually and as a group we had high expectations, we knew we needed to be better.
"Mike came in and made it pretty clear how he wanted us to play, what he expected from each individual guy. I think guys just welcomed the opportunity, welcomed the challenge, tried to get back on track.
"It took some time. Didn't happen overnight."
Compass. A device or gadget -- something, a navigational device, that helps a person make choices about what is right or effective.
You can see it in Sid the Kid's face. He knows how hard it is to get to where they're at right now. And he’s playing out of his mind. He's got a side to him that I think you have to be born with. He's like Michael Jordan. They wanna stomp on your throat. That's what makes them great.
Crosby, who had six goals and 19 points in the playoffs, did not lead the Penguins in scoring. In fact, he did not even score a goal and had just four assists in the Cup final. But he was hardly a passenger.
He dominated in the face-off circle, blocked shots and took hits.
As Pittsburgh head coach Mike Sullivan said, "Sid has been a force every game."
He had 29 goals and 37 assists after Sullivan took over ... plus.
"I give Sid a lot of credit. He's the ultimate competitor," Sullivan replied. "I don't that I've been around an player that has a work ethic like Sid's.
"He comes to the rink every day. He's got an unsatible appetite to be the best. I thought did a tremendous job as being our leader. The calming influence he brought to our bench was incredible.
"He's a complete player. He plays at both ends of the rink. He's a great faceoff guy. He kills penalties when we need him to. He plays in all the key situations.
"I don't think his point production indicates how well he played. He may not have scored, but he certainly is a handful out there regardless of who they put out on the ice against him."
Said GM Jim Rutherford, "He does things quietly. Sid's a great leader. It really gets overlooked.
"Everybody judges Sid on his points and how many goals he gets and things like that. But he's really an all-around player. He plays in all zones on the rink. He plays hard. He leads his team. He leads by example and he does things quietly. He's a quiet leader but a really good one."
The 28-year-old Crosby has now two Stanley Cups 2008 and 2016, won two Conn Smythe awards, won two Hart Trophies (league MVP), won two scoring titles, won two straight junior titles and won two Olympic gold medals. Only Joe Sakic accomplished the feat.
The only other forward to win the Conn Smythe Trophy without scoring a goal in the Stanley Cup Final that year was Chicago's Jonathan Toews in 2010. Toews scored 29 points in the playoffs that year but he notched only three assists in six games in the Final series against Philadelphia.
Sid is the ninth player in NHL history to win the Stanley Cup twice and two Olympic gold medals.
Crosby joins Igor Larionov, Viacheslav Fetisov, Peter Forsberg, Martin Brodeur, Scott Niedermayer, Duncan Keith, Jonathan Toews and Drew Doughty.
All of the above brings us back to the Genius Factor of Crosby.
Crosby, in a motion so effortless it is unclear even after replays how he did it, reached to the puck and, without a millisecond of hesitation, passed it back through his legs. The puck obediently slid to the right of the net, just out of Andrei Vasilevskiy's reach and onto the stick of Pittsburgh’s Patric Hornqvist who -- holy cow, where did he come from? -- was all alone at the net's doorstep.
"Sid's a great leader. It really gets overlooked," said Penguins general manager Jim Rutherford, who surrounded Crosby with some new talent this season. "Everybody looks at how many points he gets, but the fact of the matter is he's become an all-around player. He deserves the Conn Smythe, and he's become one of the great leaders of the league."
"That's the character he's had," Penguins left wing Chris Kunitz said. "The guy has been in the media since Day One, and the guy has never changed. He had to grow up through all of this and always take it on his shoulders. That's the role he has in the media. He does it every single day.
"The expectation is always above and beyond everybody else."
Crosby's dominance was evident throughout the final game as Pittsburgh spent most of the time when he was on the ice in San Jose's zone. His pass from behind the net to Kris Letang put the Penguins ahead 2-1 just 1:19 after the Sharks tied the score. Crosby then blocked a shot from Marc-Edouard Vlasic late that helped set up Patric Hornqvist's empty-netter that sealed it.
Offense. Defense. All wrapped into one. The Penguins were 33-16-5 under Sullivan in the regular season and rolled into the playoffs as the NHL's hottest team.
There's more ...
The Cole Harbour native did something similar, delivering a message to his teammates that helped spearhead their overtime victory over the Capitals that propelled them to the Eastern Conference Finals.
"It was quiet," Ian Cole said. "We were all sitting around, not saying much at all. And, you know, it started with Sid. He was the first one to stand up and say something."
Crosby felt it was time to speak up after watching his team surrender a three-goal lead.
"He said, 'Boys, let's raise the energy level in here right now. Let's do it right now. It's too quiet in here. We're in a good spot here. We're playing the best team in the league. We are one goal away from ending this series.' "
"You can't say enough about him," said Hornqvist. "He's always on the ice in the big moments of the game. He was our best player ... by far."
"He wears the 'C' for a reason. He's our leader," said winger Conor Sheary. "I know the Conn Smythe means the best players and he's been our best player and he has been all year."
Oh, yeah, Conor Sheary.
Kris Letang had Sheary to move from his normal position on a faceoff in the left wing circle and ...
Crosby won the draw, got it back to Letang from where he would pass it to the rookie up the middle of the ice, where the Sharks weren't going to expect him to be.
Sheary took the pass and wired it high into the net for a 2-1 OT win. The goal at 2:35 of overtime was another of the famous Genius Factor tags in Game 2.
So how does the second Stanley Cup fit into your legacy when you take a look at the arc of your career?
"I think the best way I can describe it is, like I said, I have a greater appreciation this time around," Crosby reasoned about 2008 and '09 Cup visits. "At a young age, going back-to-back like we did, you just think it's going to be an annual thing.
"With the core we have, you think everyone's going to stay together, the team's not going to change. But it does. That's kind of the reality of playing hockey."
Crosby continued, "You don't know if you're going to get that opportunity again. You just kind of try to be the best cheerleader you can be in that situation I guess, try to be supportive and hope they get the result.
"I wasn't really thinking about '09 that much. I was just thinking about how hard it was to get to this point and just trying to enjoy every second of it. It's not easy to get here and having won seven years ago at a young age, you probably take it for granted a little bit. You don't think you do at the time. But it's not easy to get this point, so just try and enjoy it as best as I can.
"I have a greater appreciation this time around."
And the rest of the NHL has a greater appreciation of just how well Sidney Crosby can do things.