Sidney Crosby Unplugged: On Top of His Game, the Penguins Captain Doesn’t Discount Another 50-goal Season
When Sidney Crosby says reaching the 50-goal mark is a realistic target, history suggests that you believe him.
After all, given the run he’s been on in the past 12 months, it would be foolish to doubt the Pittsburgh Penguins superstar.
“Yeah, I think 50 is obtainable,” Crosby said when asked by Postmedia to assess the possibility. “You need some bounces to go your way to get 50, but I still think it’s an obtainable number.
“Over the past year I’ve played in some pretty big games so I think that helps as far as getting ready, getting prepared and playing the right way,” he added.
To his point: In the past 30 weeks, Sidney Crosby has played in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference final against Tampa Bay; the Stanley Cup-clinching game in San Jose; and the best-of-three final in the World Cup versus Team Europe. To no one’s surprise, he won them all, capturing trophies as NHL and World Cup MVP in the process.
With two Stanley Cup titles, two Olympic gold medals and a World Cup crown to his credit, Sidney Crosby has nothing left to prove. And yet, he keeps on doing it thanks to the motivational fire that continues to burn deep in his gut.
After missing the first six games of the season with concussion-like symptoms, Crosby has been on a torrid pace, scoring 21 goals in 24 games entering the Penguins contest against the Los Angeles Kings on Friday. Twenty-four hours later, he’ll step on the Air Canada Centre ice for the first time since hoisting the World Cup trophy two months ago when the Penguins meet the Maple Leafs Saturday in front of a national television audience.
Maintaining his remarkable 26.9 per cent shooting percentage over the course of the entire season is unrealistic, making the possibility of a 50-goals-in-50-games performance a long shot at best. But nothing seems outlandish when it comes to Crosby, whose recent penchant of scoring goals by swatting pucks out of the air a la Josh Donaldson even has his own teammates shaking their heads in disbelief.
“I think we still look at each other along the bench going, ‘Did he really do that?’” Chris Kunitz told reporters in Pittsburgh on Thursday.
Crosby downplays his goal-scoring touch, saying that “I think I’ve just been in the right places and pucks have just kind of found me. I don’t think I’ve really done anything different.”
Still, here’s the scary part: He thinks he’s actually performed better than this.
“When I look back, I feel like the best I’ve probably ever felt or played was prior to my concussion in 2010,” he said.
“It’s hard looking back. Things are different. Things change. Right now I feel pretty good.”
As he mentioned, Crosby’s best season may have been 2009-10 when he scored a career-high 51 goals. Don’t bet against it happening again this time around.
We also quizzed the NHL’s hottest goal scorer on a number of other pressing issues.
On Penguins coach Mike Sullivan
Tuesday marked the one-year anniversary of Sullivan’s promotion from the AHL to the role of Penguins head coach.
Sullivan’s impact on Crosby’s performance is underscored by the numbers. Prior to Sullivan’s hiring on Dec. 12, 2015, the captain had accrued just 19 points in the first 28 games of the 2015-16 NHL season, causing him to repeatedly hear the question: “What’s wrong with Sidney Crosby?”
We now know the answer — nothing.
In 78 regular-season games under Sullivan, Crosby has 51 goals and 48 assists – an average of 1.27 points per game. There’s a Cup title and a Conn Smythe Trophy in that span as well.
“I think he’s just really demanding,” Crosby said of Sullivan. “He expects a lot out of the guys. I think he tried to get the best out of every individual player.
“Personally I feel as if he doesn’t overlook any little details in the game because of that. I think that makes us better as a group and better individually.”
On the NHL’s new concussion protocol
When league-appointed concussion spotters two weeks ago ordered Oilers star Connor McDavid out of a game against Winnipeg in order to be examined, the Edmonton captain was critical of the process. But Crosby has no issue with such a protocol, especially given his own history of concussions.
“I’m OK with it,” he said. “I think the whole goal is to protect players and sometimes in the heat of a game it’s difficult to make those kinds of decisions as a player. When you’re competitive you want to keep playing. That’s why there are people in place to look after that and take those decisions out of your hands.
“I think it’s all about protecting the players and I don’t have a problem with that.”
On being a target
Earlier this month, a frustrated McDavid lashed out at the Flyers’ Brandon Manning, claiming the defenceman told McDavid he tried to injure him on purpose during a collision last season that broke McDavid’s collarbone. For Crosby, being a target is part of being an elite player in the NHL.
“I don’t think that’s ever going to change,” Crosby said. “I mean, I think there’s a lot of attention on guys and on the game itself. There are cameras everywhere, so they’re usually good at catching things. There are not a lot of things that go unseen.
“I think you just have to trust that guys will be punished accordingly or penalized accordingly depending on what they do. When you are a player who the other team is trying to make sure doesn’t produce, sometimes it gets extra physical, more intense and that’s just part of the game.”
On whether NHLers should participate at the 2018 Olympics
“I’d love to be part of it. I’ve been fortunate enough to be part of two great experiences in Vancouver and Sochi so, yeah, it would be nice to go. But it’s not as easy as just saying ‘let’s go.’ There are a lot of things that go into it as far as the league is concerned. We’ll have to see what happens. But I’ve had a great experience there and would love to be part of it again.”
Up and Coming Sports Stars to Look Out for in 2020
Every year, a raft of exciting new players come onto the scene across all of the major US sports. With the MLS season getting underway and the NFL and MLB drafts not too far away, now is a great time to look at the young sports stars that could have a very bright future ahead of them, and the ones that are already proving they are destined for greatness.
Theo Bair (MLS)
This MLS season is looking like it could be one of the best yet, with David Beckham’s Inter Miami team adding some extra dazzle to the league. Whilst Beckham might be able to attract a lot of new players to his MLS team, there are a lot of young stars on their way through such as Theo Bair at Vancouver Whitecaps. Bair has already made an impact on the first team and after impressing at under-20 and under-23 level for the national team, he has made two appearances for the senior team, well before his 21st birthday. This year could see Bair make a real name for himself in the MLS.
Vladimir Guerrero Jr. (MLB)
Montreal-born Vladimir Guerrero Jr has one MLB season under his belt but it looks like the best is still yet to come from him at the Blue Jays. He was heavily backed to take the league by storm but he failed to live up to the hype that surrounded him. Without the pressure of being the top-ranked prospect, this season could see Guerrero play with some weight lifted off his shoulders. He has been working very hard on his fitness over the offseason, something that his manager Montoyo has been quick to comment upon.
“Baseball” (CC BY 2.0) by andrewmalone
Connor McDavid (NHL)
McDavid has already established him as a top hockey player but at 23, he has the potential to go on to do so much more. The player was born in Ontario and was the first overall draft pick, showing how much expectation was already on him at that stage but he has gone on to prove that he is one of the best players in the NHL. McDavid could go on to be one the NHL’s best-ever hockey players and this season could be the year that he shows the world, not just the NHL.
Chuba Hubbard (College Football)
The Oklahoma State Cowboys running back has been making the headlines for several years now. He continues to improve and grab more attention for his impressive stats and performances. He was close to being a sprinter and nearly made the Canadian Olympic team before switching over to football. He is passing up the 2020 NFL draft to play his senior season at Cowboys. He should give them a good chance of winning the College Football Championship, though they’re trailing at the seventh spot in the latest American football odds at +2400.00, with Clemson as the current betting favorites.
2020 will definitely be a very exciting time with some of these young stars looking to breakthrough in their respective sports and show the world what they are capable of.
Bob Baffert is back at the Kentucky Derby – and looking to break the Curse of Apollo
Bob Baffert is back at the Kentucky Derby with early favourite Justify after watching the race from his sofa in Southern California last year.
The Hall of Fame trainer’s ability to produce Derby contenders year after year is an enviable feat and why his absence a year ago stood out. It was just his second since 2009 and occurred because his lone candidate got hurt.
Baffert will saddle Justify and 30-to-1 shot Solomini in Saturday’s Derby.
Justify is one of the greenest colts Baffert has brought to Churchill Downs. He’s won all three of his starts by a combined 19 lengths. If Justify wins, he’d be the first to do so since Apollo in 1882 without racing as a two-year-old.
“The thing about the Kentucky Derby, you have to have the right horse. It just happens. You can’t force it,” Baffert said. “All of a sudden, you have good horses and you’re there. So I’ve been really fortunate to have some really good horses.”
Baffert’s four victories are tied for second-most in Derby history. He’s finished second three times, too, including in 2012 with Bodemeister, also the last time he had two starters in the same year.
Like Justify, Bodemeister didn’t race as a two-year-old. He set a blistering pace and led the Derby until the final 150 yards when I’ll Have Another overtook him to win by 1 1/2 lengths.
Magnum Moon, the 6-to-1 third choice, also is unbeaten and didn’t run as a two-year-old.
“It’s going to happen,” Baffert said, referring to the curse being broken. “Whether it happens this year or whatever, but it will happen because Bodemeister almost got away with it. But I don’t really worry about that.”
Baffert almost had a third starter this year until McKinzie developed a hind-end issue that knocked him off the Derby trail.
“When McKinzie got hurt, I wanted to throw up,” he said. “I really think McKinzie would probably be second choice here. We’d really have a 1-2 here.”
Justify cleared the biggest pre-Derby hurdle by drawing the No. 7 post. Jockey Mike Smith can use the colt’s early speed to position him well for the long run to the chaotic first turn. Solomini ended up in the No. 17 post; no horse has ever won from there.
Baffert turned 65 in January, making him eligible for Medicare and retirement at most other jobs. However, he entertains no such thoughts.
“I work hard at it. I just don’t give up,” the white-haired trainer said. “I’m constantly meeting people. They’re sending me horses. If you don’t have success, you’re not going to get those opportunities.”
After a successful run in the quarter horse ranks, Baffert switched to thoroughbreds. He started with one horse.
“After 25 years, I’m finally getting horses that I don’t have to buy,” he said. “The big guys are sending me horses.”
None was bigger than American Pharoah in 2015. The colt swept the Derby, Preakness and Belmont to become racing’s first Triple Crown winner in 37 years.
Baffert has compared Justify to American Pharoah, citing the colt’s imposing physical presence and big stride. Still, Justify has yet to encounter the kind of traffic the Derby’s 20-horse stampede creates and the talent as he’ll run against on Saturday.
“I’d rather have a really talented horse than one who’s seasoned and just on par with the rest of them,” Baffert said.
Early on, Baffert knew Justify had the goods.
“The first time I worked him at Santa Anita, I knew he was a really good horse,” he said. “The track was really deep that morning, and he went around there effortlessly. His first race, he ran incredibly and showed how special he was.”
That kind of intuition is what separates Baffert from his rivals, fellow Hall of Famer trainer D. Wayne Lukas said.
“Bob’s got a great feel for it,” he said.
Matthews ready to return to Maple Leafs lineup after missing a month
NASHVILLE — The hurtin’ tune that Auston Matthews has been singing for the past four weeks finally can be put in the remainder bin in Music City.
The Maple Leafs’ top centre on Wednesday declared himself set to return to the lineup after recovering from a right shoulder injury.
Wonderful timing, of course, considering the Leafs will take on the No. 1 club in the National Hockey League, the Nashville Predators, on Thursday night.
“In my mind, I think I’m ready to go and taking it as I’m getting ready to play (Thursday),” Matthews said after resuming his normal role, between William Nylander and Zach Hyman, during practice at Bridgestone Arena.
“It felt good, nice to get in all the reps and everything. (Wednesday) was a good step forward in that process, going through the line rushes.”
It seemed probable that the Leafs also will have defenceman Nikita Zaitsev, who missed the past five games as he recovered from an illness, against Nashville. Zaitsev was paired with Jake Gardiner, his regular partner, at practice.
For Matthews, it has been 10 games as a spectator with his latest injury, his third of the 2017-18 regular season after he missed four games in November with a back issue and then sat for six in December because of a concussion.
Thursday will mark four weeks since Matthews was hurt when he was sandwiched by the New York Islanders’ Cal Clutterbuck and Adam Pelech in a game at the Air Canada Centre.
A major bonus for Matthews in his recovery has been the fact he has been able to skate though much of his recuperation. That was not the case when he was out with his previous two injuries.
It’s worth noting that Matthews scored two goals versus the Montreal Canadiens upon returning on Nov. 18 from his back injury; in his first two games upon coming back from a concussion, he scored a goal in each.
Mike Babcock said a final decision on the participation of Matthews and Zaitsev against the Predators would be made on Thursday morning, but the Leafs coach was talking as though it would be a rubber stamp.
“This is going to be the best opportunity for (Matthews) because he has been able to skate and compete,” Babcock said. “The other times he was not able to do anything.
“To get him back … it’s still going to be going way faster than he has been practising, so there is going to be an adjustment period, but he’s a good player and he will figure it out.”
Defenceman Morgan Rielly didn’t think Matthews will take long to find his footing. Rielly missed six games in late January/early February with an arm injury, so knows what Matthews could be feeling.
“You’re nervous and you just want to get back into it,” Rielly said. “You play your first shift a bit hesitant, but after that it’s important you get back to yourself.
“It’s never easy, but Auston is one of those guys that I will imagine it won’t take long for him to get back into a rhythm.”
And there’s the trickle-down effect through the forward lines with Matthews in uniform.
“Guys are used to playing with certain players and when everyone is healthy, I think you get better chemistry throughout the entire lineup,” centre Nazem Kadri said. “Certain guys don’t have to play with different guys constantly and it’s just more of a set group, so I think it’s going to help us.”