May 31, 2016
Because it rhymes and because he was a baby-faced 18 when he made his NHL debut, Pittsburgh Penguins center Sidney Crosby always will be known as Sid the Kid. But in hockey terms, he’s no youngster anymore.
Crosby will be 29 in August. He’s now the adult in the room, though his passion for hockey — so childlike in its focus — still drives him to take part in optional practices and refine the few imperfect details of his game.
“It’s nice to touch the puck a little more on a day like today and get a little sweat,” he said Tuesday after he joined a few teammates on the ice in suburban Cranberry Township.
His work ethic and competitiveness make him an ideal role model for the kids who have made a significant impact on the Penguins’ fortunes this season, kids whose arrival was less heralded than Crosby’s as the No. 1 overall pick in 2005.
Left wing Conor Sheary and right wing Bryan Rust were instrumental in reversing the Penguins’ early-season bad fortunes, and their poised performances were crucial in Pittsburgh’s 3-2 victory over the San Jose Sharks on Monday in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final. Game 2 will be played Wednesday at Consol Energy Center.
Sheary, signed as an undrafted free agent, grew up admiring Crosby. On Monday he took a dazzling backhand pass from Crosby to score Pittsburgh’s second goal, at 13 minutes 48 seconds of the first period.
“It was a little surreal the first time it happened,” the 23-year-old Massachusetts native said of being Crosby’s linemate. “You kind of get used to it at this point.”
Crosby said Sheary brings many assets to their line, which also includes Patric Hornqvist. “I think his speed, automatically, it pushes guys back,” Crosby said. “On top of that he can hold on to the puck for a split second if he needs to create some time or space. He can hold on to it and turn back and delay and kind of allow guys to help him out and get that support. I think speed is number one, but he’s also got real good hockey sense and can make some plays.”
Rust, 24, was a third-round draft pick in 2010. He scored Pittsburgh’s first goal Monday by sweeping the puck home after a shot by Justin Schultz deflected off a San Jose defender. Rust has played on Crosby’s line occasionally but lately has been slotted on the right of veterans Chris Kunitz and Evgeni Malkin.
Rust’s status is day to day, however, as the result of a blow to the head he took from San Jose forward Patrick Marleau early in the third period. Rust played one more shift but went to the locker room for the remainder of the game.
The hit by Marleau wasn’t deemed worthy of a suspension by the NHL’s Department of Player Safety. The DPS said the main points of contact were shoulders and chest and that Rust was “low, off-balance, reaching.” Marleau, the DPS said, “does not ‘pick’ the head, elevate or extend. Head contact is with Marleau’s back.”
Losing Rust would disrupt the balance Coach Mike Sullivan achieved after he was promoted in mid-December from the Penguins’ farm team in Wilkes-Barre, Pa. Sheary, Rust and goaltender Matt Murray played for him there, earning his lasting trust as he earned theirs.
“We’ve relied on depth the entire year,” Sheary said. “To have four lines that can get going and find chemistry with each other is huge. I think the first game is a good indication of that.”
Sharks Coach Peter DeBoer, trying to fight speed with speed, might change his lineup to create a third-line role for Matt Nieto, who was recently cleared after suffering an upper-body injury during the second round against Nashville. Defenseman Justin Braun, who played Monday after learning of the death of his father-in-law — former NHL standout Tom Lysiak — will play Wednesday and then take a brief leave to be with family.
DeBoer said he was encouraged by his team’s ability to pull even at 2-2 after being overwhelmed by the Penguins’ speed in the first period. Pittsburgh center Nick Bonino scored the winner with 2:33 left.
“It’s on us to execute better,” DeBoer said. “It’s on us to impose our game on them for longer stretches.”
Sheary said the Penguins were encouraged by Game 1, too.
“In the first period we kind of jumped on them and got to our game. I think we need to stick to that and play our own game,” he said. “We know in this room that we’re a good team and I think when we play our best we can beat anyone.”
And that’s not kids’ stuff.
Follow Helene Elliott on Twitter: @helenenothelen