Sidney Crosby’s Night

Really, what else is there to say? So much already was said (guilty!) in the 24 hours leading up to the return of the NHL’s best player, Sidney Crosby. And yet even the silliest aspirations about how no. 87 would look Monday in his first game in 10 months — Would he score a goal? Would he score a goal on his very first shot? — were rendered more ridiculous when Crosby not only met them, but then power-skated right on by. There were concerns about Crosby’s ability to graduate from the confines of practice to the physicality and speed of a live game, but Sid handled both right from the opening draw when he wrestled the puck away from Isles phenom John Tavares. (“It’s a faceoff and he battles like it’s the last draw of the season,” chuckled Pittsburgh coach Dan Bylsma.)

About five minutes into the game, Crosby got the puck with a burst of speed in the neutral zone, strong-armed past an Isles defenseman, and went backhand shelf. A goal on his very first shot. The crowd went nuts, waving the “Welcome back SID!” signs that were the idea of team owner Mario Lemieux, who had staged a comeback of his own in 2000 after recovering from Hodgkin’s lymphoma and cherished the memory of the “MARIO” signs that fans held aloft. Lemieux had a goal and two assists that night, a legendary feat that Crosby not only matched but surpassed early in the third period with his second score and fourth point.

Of course, this all took place against a hapless Islanders team that was starting not its backup goalie, not its third goalie, but a fourth goalie who had been plucked from the minors. Crosby’s goals were arguably not even the best of the night: Carolina’s Jeff Skinner’s lovely spinorama around veteran Flyers defenseman Kimmo Timonen would have dominated the highlight reels otherwise, even if it wouldn’t have led SportsCenter. So it didn’t take long for the backlash to begin, for eyes to start rolling over the breathless and wall-to-wall coverage of Crosby’s return. (If Tim Tebow didn’t exist, Sid would be the most Christ-like athlete of the fall.) It’s fine to gag when something is shoved down your throat. But it was hard not to be happy to see and feel so much buzz for a random regular season NHL game on a Monday in November, and be happier still that the comeback lived up to even its ridiculous hype. Yahoo!’s Nick Cotsonika put it best: “I know some people are sick of Sid and the coverage of him. But if you can’t appreciate what he did last night, why do you watch hockey?”

Previously from Katie Baker:
The Return of Sidney Crosby
Goalies of the Week
Broadway Blueshirts Are Becoming Must-See Theatre
Manning-ology, Lady Byng, and the Pitfalls of Great Free Tickets
The Best Team in the NHL

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Filed Under: Katie Baker, NHL, Pittsburgh Penguins

Katie Baker is a staff writer at Grantland.

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