Sidney Crosby's newfound shoot-first attitude serving him well in hot start

Sid the Kid is looking for his own opportunities early in the season, and that's good news for the Pittsburgh Penguins.

When you think of the name Sidney Crosby, "scorer" is probably not the first word that comes to mind.

That's not because Crosby can't score. The man has won the Rocket Richard Trophy twice and is almost certain to top 600 goals if he finishes his current contract. The reason "scorer" doesn't leap to mind is that Crosby is better known as a winner, leader, and two-way force. He can light the lamp, but he's so good at everything else that doing so isn't his trademark.

So far this season, scoring has been has been his bread-and-butter, though. Following a hat trick on Tuesday night Crosby has 10 goals in 14 games.

Sidney Crosby has impressed as a scorer early in the season. (Getty Images)
Sidney Crosby has impressed as a scorer early in the season. (Getty Images)

Last season it took him 19 games to reach double digits and in 2021-22 reaching it required 28 games. In each of the two seasons before that, Crosby needed exactly 26 games to score 10 goals.

While that's an arbitrary mini-milestone, it's representative of the superstar's lack of elite scoring in recent years. Since his last Rocket Richard win in 2016-17, Crosby hasn't topped 35 goals in any season, and he ranks 24th in the NHL in goals per game (0.42) — just below Filip Forsberg.

That doesn't mean he's failed to make an impact, but Crosby hasn't been among the league leaders in terms of raw scoring. The future Hall of Famer has reversed that trend this season, and it seems to go beyond small-sample-size noise.

In most cases when a player is scoring at an unexpectedly high clip, an inflated shooting percentage is an important factor. For instance, Brock Boeser currently ranks third in the NHL with 12 goals, but he's managed that total on 43 shots, which is the league's 54th-highest total. It seems fair to assume that the Vancouver Canucks forward will come back to earth in the days to come.

Crosby is a bit of a different case. The 36-year-old has a high shooting percentage, but that number sits at 18.5%, a mark that wouldn't even be a career-high for the Penguins great. There's room for regression, but he entered 2023-24 with a shooting percentage of 14.7% or better in four of the last five seasons. Efficient scoring is part of Crosby's skill set.

The way he's been able to boost his scoring without too much beneficial puck luck is simply putting more attempts on target. Crosby is currently averaging 3.86 shots per game, which would be the second-highest total of his career if it held up.

Because his workload has decreased slightly, his shooting numbers are even more dramatic on a per-minute basis. Crosby's current 12.3 shots/60 minutes is more than a shot higher than his previous career-high (11.1). He hasn't topped 10 since 2016-17.

Crosby has also done a better job of shooting from better scoring areas for far this season than in recent years. According to NHL Edge data, a higher percentage of his shots have been classified as high-danger this season than in 2021-22 or 2022-23 — with a smaller percentage coming from long range.

Via NHL Edge
Via NHL Edge

At some point, we're likely to see Crosby slow down a touch. The 58.6 goals he's currently on pace for are too much to ask for a 36-year-old who sniffed 50 once back in 2009-10. He also has a couple of empty-net markers early. While those won't dry up completely, getting one per seven games is a little much to ask.

Even if his pace declines, there's plenty of room for a deceleration that would still result in his best goal-scoring output in years. If Crosby stays healthy from here on out, he'd need 0.44 goals per game — a number in line with his recent averages — to reach 40 for the first time since he turned 30.

The Penguins superstar is clearly looking for his shot a little more early in the season, and the results he's produced should incentivize him to stay the course.