We all know Sidney Crosby is a great player, a first-ballot Hall of Famer and probably on his way to getting his name etched onto the Stanley Cup for a second time.
But is he a cheater?
At least a few San Jose Sharks think so after seeing Crosby beat former Capital Joel Ward on the overtime faceoff that led to Conor Sheary’s game-winning goal in the Pittsburgh Penguins’ 2-1 win over the San Jose Sharks, giving the Pens a 2-0 lead in the Stanley Cup Final.
“He cheats,” Sharks center Logan Couture said after Wednesday night’s game. “He gets away with that. He’s Sidney Crosby.”
How does Crosby cheat on faceoffs, Couture was asked.
“He times them,” Couture said. “And yet they don't kick him out for some reason; probably because of who he is.”
Ah, yes, the old double standard. Michael Jordan was never called for traveling because he was Michal Jordan. Clayton Kershaw gets strikes off the plate because he’s a three-time Cy Young award winner.
Crosby’s faceoff proficiency – he’s won 52.6 of his draws since the NHL began keeping track in his third NHL season (2007-08) -- often gets overlooked. But several players around the NHL, including a few Capitals, have accused Crosby of being, well, a little too quick on the draw.
“Maybe (Crosby) should have been kicked out,” Sharks defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic said. “He took a while to get into the faceoff (but), but what do I know?”
The reason Crosby took so long to take the draw against Ward is that he was devising a play that went exactly as he scripted it, cleanly winning the puck back to defenseman Kris Letang, who feathered a pass into the slot for Conor Sheary, who ripped a shot through a screen and past San Jose goalie Martin Jones.
But it all started with Crosby swiping a backhander away from Ward. Crosby’s stick is off the ice before the puck drop from linesman Pierre Racicot and the momentum he gains from coming across his body on the backhand is enough to cleanly win the draw.
According to Rule 76.4, Face-Offs – Paragraph 2, Crosby was technically cheating.
When the face-off takes place at any of the nine face-off spots, the players taking part shall take their position so that they will stand squarely facing their opponent's end of the rink, and clear of the ice markings (where applicable). The sticks of both players facing-off shall have the blade on the ice, within the designated white area. At the eight face-off spots (excluding center ice face-off spot), the defending player shall place his stick within the designated white area first followed immediately by the attacking player. When the face-off is conducted at the center ice face-off spot, the visiting player shall place his stick on the ice first.
Ward, the visiting player, clearly put his stick on the ice first, but Crosby timed Racicot’s drop perfectly.
But before we start throwing darts at Crosby, let’s not forget the amount of film study and practice that goes into his proficiency on faceoffs. He went into the playoffs knowing the tendencies and cadences of every NHL linesman.
Crosby won 17 of his 24 faceoffs Wednesday night and spent extra time during an optional practice working on his draws with former Caps center Eric Fehr.
"That's Sid," Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said. "His work ethic is unmatched. He has an insatiable appetite to get better and be the best. I've said it on a number of occasions: He's not as good as he is by accident. He works extremely hard at it. He prides himself in the details of his game, like faceoffs."
And let’s also give Crosby credit for, before the faceoff, telling Sheary to leave his spot on the left wall and find a “soft spot” in the high slot, where Letang could flip the puck past an aggressive pursuit by Couture.
That’s some pretty good game-planning by the Penguins’ captain.
"He said he was going to win it to me, that's it," Letang said. “He was going to win it to me and I had to find (Sheary).”
He did, and Crosby and the Penguins are now two wins away from hockey’s holy grail.