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NHL Pittsburgh Penguins

Pittsburgh Penguins’ Sidney Crosby, Lee Stempniak Must Step Up Against Anaheim

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On Thursday night, Sidney Crosby played arguably one of the worst games of his career against the San Jose Sharks. He was shown up by Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau, he couldn’t capitalize on any of his chances, and his lack of effort inspired a gif of him “backchecking” right before Marleau’s shorthanded goal tied the game at two.

When all was said and done, the Pittsburgh Penguins were defeated 5-3, Crosby ended the night with an astounding minus-5 rating, which was a career-worst, and he was also held pointless for the second time in his last three games.

He may still have a 13-point lead in the NHL scoring race, but Friday night’s game against the Anaheim Ducks will be crucial to Crosby’s confidence as the Penguins move toward the playoffs. And it’s not like Crosby struggles to produce away from Consol Energy Center – he leads the NHL in points on the road as well.

It’s been said all year that the Western Conference is the better conference in the NHL, and the Penguins aren’t doing much to void that argument. After being embarrassed by the Chicago Blackhawks at Soldier Field, the Sharks came out last night and manhandled the Penguins for the final two periods.

There’s no excuse for a team as skilled as the Penguins to lose in regulation after being up 2-0 at the end of the first period. Last night’s loss was only the second time all season that the Penguins lost in regulation when going into the dressing room ahead after 20 minutes.

There’s no doubt that the best line for the Penguins all season has been the combination of Evgeni Malkin, Jussi Jokinen and James Neal, but this is still Crosby’s team. Head coach Dan Bylsma has some time to figure out who he wants to play with Crosby and Chris Kunitz on the first line, but he needs to realize that Brian Gibbons isn’t the answer.

Crosby’s even-strength production has been heavily affected by the injury to Pascal Dupuis, but that’s why Lee Stempniak was brought in just before the trade deadline.

Stempniak has yet to even practice with the team, so asking him to get used to playing with two new guys is a lot. However, he needs to prove that he can be the guy who plays on the top line of this team. He’s a big guy who plays a physical game, and if the Ducks watched how the Sharks handled the Pens last night, it will be reiterated in their locker room to be sure to finish every check.

The Penguins still have a stranglehold on the Metropolitan division, but that doesn’t mean that these games don’t matter. The Penguins have something to prove to the top tier teams in the west, and on Friday night, it’s going to be up to Crosby and Stempniak to send the message.