WINNIPEG, Manitoba — It's understandable why a lot of the fanbase wants Sidney Crosby to play with top-tier NHL wingers. Phil Kessel was brought in to score, and he's done a lot of that, but he's never played long stints with Crosby.
Marian Hossa was brought in to be that guy as well, but it was Pascal Dupuis who ended up being the gem of that trade — and Crosby's long term linemate.
Chris Kunitz won three Stanley Cups with the Penguins, playing mostly with Crosby during his stint in Pittsburgh. Even so, fans clamored often for a pure shooting, Ilya Kovalchuk type to compliment Crosby's playmaking ability.
So, of course, a percentage of the fans want the Penguins to put a high scoring winger on the Penguins' top line. Perhaps they shouldn't.
Not to discredit the success of Kunitz and Dupuis, but they won't be the most talented players to ever line up with No. 87. Jarome Iginla helped carry that torch to Olympic gold, but never had a real chance to find success with Sid as a Penguin. Kunitz and Dupuis knew how to play with Crosby. They worked hard, occupied space, fed off of Crosby.
Jake Guentzel, although he's proven in his young career to be a natural goal scorer, fits the plays well with Crosby mold as well. Conor Sheary ... the same thing.
Dominik Simon, too.
Regarding Simon, it feels like every time Dejan Kovacevic and I talk about him and playing with Crosby we justify it by "he just plays well with him. They play off of each other."
This is just eye test stuff, though. And while you can watch Crosby and Simon find success together and just know they should play together, some people prefer evidence and that's just fine.
So, here's the evidence:
If you're a numbers person, our David Golebiewski broke them down recently and proved Simon's value on Crosby's top line.
If you're a visual person, two shining examples of Simon's ability to play with Crosby took place during the Penguins' win in Winnipeg. A little less "eye test" and a little more "holy cow." Sometimes the eye test stuff can be, well, eye opening.
The first example, of course, was Simon's pass to Crosby to set up the Penguins' first goal and yet another Crosby backhanded beauty:
Crosby never called for that pass, by the way. And Simon clearly didn't see him. What Simon did see, however, was the row of Jets players standing in mud and Guentzel chipping the puck ahead. Knowing that Crosby was on the ice, and knowing where the Jets were, Simon just had to play a puck into space for Crosby to go and get.
That's the kind of soccer-like pass, a "through puck" into space, if you will, that's made when you are comfortable with your linemates and anticipate the space they'll occupy.
I asked Sid about the pass, so hear him tell it:
The next superior example came several minutes into the third period when Crosby and Simon played keep-away with a series of nifty passes:
Now, play long enough with anyone and you are bound to have some chemistry when cycling the puck. But ...
Watch Crosby first. He sees Simon and gets him the puck low and then rotates to fill the space left unoccupied. A bit of a drift when it comes to speed, making himself available to support Simon on the puck.
Simon swings the puck behind him to Crosby and accelerates to the slot. Crosby turns quickly in the same direction, spinning Josh Morrisey who's trying to defend him, and passes between the legs of the Jets defenseman to Simon ... who hits the post.
If Simon scores, we're talking about one of the prettiest goals to be scored this season. Regardless of the outcome, though, I've watched this sequence 100 times and I could watch it 100 more.
You've got to feel a bit for Morrisey, too. The magic between Crosby and Simon leaves him without much left in the legs and he coasts toward a live puck with his stick locked to the hips. That sign of defeat should be all that's left to see to convince even the stingiest of fans of Simon's value when playing with Crosby.
BUFFY, THE BIG RIG SLAYER
Or ... so he thought. Dustin Byfuglien, the heaviest NHL'er in the league at 260 pounds took on the runner up, Jamie Oleksiak, at 255 pounds in a solid, open ice hit near the Jets' bench. Byfuglien got the jump on Oleksiak, who was chasing a puck up the boards, and it looked like he could have done damage to big No. 6.
It wasn't Oleksiak who was damaged, though, as Byfuglien fell to the ice awkwardly and struggled to get up and get to the bench.
Here's a look at the hit and some of Byfuglien's teammates attempting to get him off the ice and out of play:
The scariest part of this video is that it doesn't represent even a fraction of the struggle Byfuglien faced getting to his feet. Watch the way his feet try to use the ice, though, as he attempts to stay standing after the hit. It's almost as if he temporarily can't control them. The ankles give out, bend awkwardly, the big man hits the ice and then struggles to use his legs to get out of the play.
Let's look at another view of the hit and aftermath. It's a recording on Twitter of a different broadcast, and it shows the scene I watched through my lens. Seeing Byfuglien struggle like this horrified me, as I wished someone would have stopped play to get Byfuglien assistance on the ice.
— Rob Willcott (@advantagephysio) November 28, 2018
Then I was horrified as he took a seat with the defensemen and looked to shake off further assistance. That was followed by appreciation of the Jets when they took Byfuglien to the locker room, but again horror when he rejoined the bench and took to the power play before the first period had ended.
The NHL has been better about protecting and preventing head injuries, but they are still far too prevalent. There's no one to suspend here, there's no one to protect except Byfuglien from himself.
If the big guy went back to the room and passed a quick test, as difficult as it would be to believe, that's great. I hope for his sake that there's no concussion here. But, anyone who was on the bench or in the organization who watched Byfuglien's Bambi-like ability to move on the ice should have held him from the game.
I'm not sure this one needed a doctor to make the proper call. From my seat, this looked like another failure by the NHL to protect its players' heads, but in a completely different way.
SECONDARY SCORING, THE TRILOGY
It's been quite a while since we've had a good, consistent look at hockey hugs due to a lack of ... well ... winning. It's also been a good while since we've seen good, consistent secondary scoring. We will see about the consistency part, but let's take a look at a trilogy of really nice hockey hugs featuring secondary scorers.
These images are brought to you by the extremely accommodating photo team in Winnipeg who not only got me a spot on the ice for the second and third periods, but also had me in "deep" holes for each period to shoot the Penguins' attack. They really are nice in Canada, eh?
Secondary Scoring Celly
Secondary Scoring Celly, Vol. 2
Secondary Scoring Celly, Vol. 3
MATT SUNDAY GALLERY
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