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Crosby needs help, Isles of mystery, and more notes

Posted: Thursday December 27, 2007 4:45PM; Updated: Thursday December 27, 2007 4:45PM
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Tyler Kennedy has not been the answer to Sidney Crosby's recent troubles.
Tyler Kennedy has not been the answer to Sidney Crosby's recent troubles.
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In the spirit of holiday receiving, Sidney Crosby added to his June haul -- Trophies Hart, Ross, Pearson et. al. -- with a December to remember. Canada threw bouquets and awards at the feet of its favorite hockey son, naming the precocious 20-year old the winner of the prestigious Lou Marsh Award (presented by the Toronto Star and friends), the Canadian Press male athlete of the year, the Canwest Media athlete of the year, the Rogers Sportsnet athlete of the year and probably a few that slipped through the cracks.

Steve Nash ... win an NBA championship and we'll talk.

But during the orgy of deserved congratulations for the NHL's MVP of 2006-07, the hash reality is that Crosby also won pre-holiday consolation prizes: wingers named Tyler Kennedy and Erik Christensen.

Crosby has won a lot of things in his still short life, but he has not yet qualified for The Anne Bancroft in The Miracle Worker Trophy. In the absence of Ryan Malone (infected leg), Pittsburgh coach Michel Therrien was forced to saddle Crosby with wingers who are hardly qualified to take advantage of the captain's exceptional passing skills.

Yes, Crosby's landlord Mario Lemieux once turned Warren Young into a 40-goal scorer, but different era, different players. But in a showcase divisional game at Madison Square Garden the week prior to Christmas, the Penguins managed five shots on goal through two periods before an exasperated Therrien threw Evgeni Malkin on Crosby's line in a belated attempt to generate some semblance of offense against the Rangers.

Crosby got a lot more awards than goals in December. Prior to the match against Washington on Thursday, he had scored twice. In one six-game stretch, he failed to record a point in four of the matches. His crown as the NHL's best player has tilted if not exactly slipped.

You won't hear any of this, of course, on New Year's Day when the NHL stages an outdoor game between the Penguins and the Buffalo Sabres in Orchard Park, NY. If the frigid outdoor game in Edmonton between the Oilers and Montreal Canadiens is any indication, the event will be spectacular and the actual hockey will be egregious -- because the NBC-televised game will be a Sidneypalooza. If you took a snapshot of the season today, you could argue Vincent Lecavalier, Jarome Iginla and Daniel Alfredsson have had the more impressive 35-plus games, but that hardly matters. Crosby is the NHL's engine.

But Crosby needs help in Pittsburgh. With sophomore Jordan Staal scuffling and Therrien understandably cautious about overplaying Malkin with Crosby, there just aren't enough skilled forwards to fuel the growth of the Penguins from a coming team into a Stanley Cup contender. Even before goalie Marc-André Fleury's ankle injury, the Penguins seemed to have hit a plateau. The best-case scenario for helping them out of their rut is general manager Ray Shero finding some complementary wingers for Crosby. The worst-case scenario is the Penguins finding themselves stuck in neutral like the Tampa Bay Lightning, top-heavy with a few superb players but unable to fill in around them.

As appealing to prospective hockey fans as Crosby will be skating in the great outdoors on Jan. 1, he will be a lot more appealing skating indoors in June with a Stanley Cup over his head.

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