Derek Grant has received his fair share of criticism when assessing the Penguins' issues over the past few weeks.
Most of that is fair — his Corsi For percentage, essentially the percentage of chances created while he's on the ice, sits right in between Matt Cullen and Riley Sheahan at 43.79 percent. Those three centers have the lowest percentage of any Penguins forwards.
So, while it's easy to say Grant has been expendable in the lineup because he's been the easiest to move between Wilkes-Barre and Pittsburgh, it's not like his play has argued for keeping him at the NHL level.
There were a few examples Wednesday, however, that made him look like the best of the bottom three options in a hypothetically healthy Penguins team, even if his CF% was a Penguins' low 38.46 percent in a game the Penguins simply dominated.
The biggest example, and the one that was really noticeable when it started right in front of my shooting position, was when Grant used a quick burst at the end of his shift to spring a 50/50 puck in the Penguins favor, and again to get onside, and allow Tanner Pearson to score his second on the season and second as a Penguin.
When I talked to Pearson after the game, he credited Grant for more than getting to the puck. Specifically, he credited him for drawing the defenders and giving Pearson space to quite literally rip the twine from the Stars' net. Let's hear it from him:
Now, let's take a look at the play, starting with Grant's initial contribution:
The player Grant beats is forward Blake Comeau looking like he's at the end of his shift as well, and with the full motivation one possesses when back-checking a loose puck in a 4-0 deficit. Regardless, Grant moves the legs while Comeau coasts and the puck pops right to the stick of a fresh Pearson.
Both Stars follow Grant, or more realistically look for more fresh Penguins, and it opens a lane wider than the parkway has ever seen in either direction. Five to nothing, just like that.
There's an undisputed, unrivaled part of Sidney Crosby's game that is so laughably superior to the competition that we've become nearly numb to its brilliance. Of course, we're talking about his backhand.
Crosby's backhand looks an awful lot like the "baseball" part of his game from the season prior. And, by that I mean that it's always been an elite part of his game, and a true complement to his also elite forehand play, but he's found a way to escalate his use of it to levels we've never witnessed.
I thought the peak may have come last season when we saw the one-handed backhand against the Sabres, but the string of goals, and now assists, from the convex side of Crosby's blade prove this season will be the best yet.
The trend continued from where it left off before Crosby's missed time. The first example came when the Penguins opened the scoring against the Stars and scored the first goal when Crosby threaded a no-look backhand to Jake Guentzel to one-time from a couple of feet from my photo hole in the right circle.
I know No. 87 can make a lot of things look easy, but the casual way he pushes this pass across the attacking zone and through defenders as he cycles high should relax even the most tense of Penguins fans during a seriously negative portion of the season.
That was obviously the best example since it opened scoring on a five goal night, and it was an assist, but a nearly-as-pretty example came late in the game as Crosby almost picked up a secondary assist.
Guentzel led a two-on-one with Crosby, and, again, the captain cycled high in the zone when he got the puck. This time it allowed Dominik Simon to occupy his vacated space. Crosby looked across the ice as if to replicate his earlier deed, but opted to slip a nifty backhand to his sometimes linemate between the outreaching sticks of three Stars.
Simon did his best to try for a fourth Crosby point, but he elevated the puck just a bit and Guentzel couldn't redirect it for a sixth Penguins goal. The crowd reacted with a large "oh!" sound regardless of the outcome, appreciative of Crosby's backhanded exhibition Wednesday.
Thinking back on it ... this was arguably a better pass, but they don't write screenplays about the ones that don't find the net.
MATT SUNDAY GALLERY
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