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Pittsburgh’s Sidney Crosby hasn’t been as dominant, and time is flying

Penguins center Sidney Crosby (87) waits for a third period face off against the Kings on Dec. 5.

Penguins center Sidney Crosby (87) waits for a third period face off against the Kings on Dec. 5.

(Alex Gallardo / Associated Press)

A slow start for Pittsburgh Penguins center Sidney Crosby has dragged on long enough to put him on a career-low scoring pace that even he can’t explain.

Crosby, a two-time scoring champion and two-time most valuable player, rarely stood out in games against the Kings and Ducks last weekend in Southern California. In the past, he’d command your attention with a dazzling burst of speed, a brilliant bit of anticipation, and a brave foray through a jungle of cross-checks and elbows. This time, those special moments never happened. He came away with a goal and two assists, a modest upturn that increased his totals to six goals and 18 points in 26 games.

That meant the man who took uniform number 87 because he was born on 8/7/87 ranked No. 86 in scoring through Sunday’s games. Even there, he couldn’t find symmetry.

Kings Coach Darryl Sutter theorized Crosby’s production has declined because “he’s playing a more complete game” as part of the Penguins’ improved defensive effort under Coach Mike Johnston. “They’re playing a game that’s more suited for success,” Sutter said. But Crosby doesn’t think he’s sacrificing offense for defense the way a young Steve Yzerman did in order for the Detroit Red Wings to become Stanley Cup champions.

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“I think you can do both. I don’t think trying to be good defensively hurts your offense. I think if anything, it helps it,” said Crosby, who averaged 1.36 points per game over his first 10 seasons but is averaging .692 points per game this season.

“I don’t think that’s on anybody but myself and on trying to bury the chances that I do get. You always want more, but if they’re not coming in bunches, then the ones you get, you’ve got to put them in. When you’re struggling a bit to score it feels like you always want more and they don’t seem to come. But that’s just the way it is, and you’ve got to find ways to produce.”

Not that defense is foreign to him. “Sid has always worked on every aspect of his game. Throughout the years, if someone said he wasn’t a goal scorer he’d be able to go out and score 50, or said he wouldn’t be able to come back from something, he always did,” said Chris Kunitz, who has played on Crosby’s left wing lately.

“Our team has asked him to be really good on faceoffs in the defensive zone. He goes out there for almost all of those faceoffs. That’s something that’s new for him, but I think he’s always been that complete player.”

From childhood Crosby was designated “The Next One,” the successor to The Great One, Wayne Gretzky. Crosby helped save the Penguins’ franchise after they drafted him first in 2005 and his future seemed limitless, but he missed most of the 2010-11 and 2011-12 seasons because of a concussion and a neck injury. After winning the Stanley Cup in 2009, the Penguins have gotten as far as the East finals once, in 2012-13. There’s a next designated “Next One” in Edmonton’s Connor McDavid, and others will follow.

Will we see Crosby dominate again, in a league where scoring is at a premium? It’s possible. But at 28 he feels time flying more rapidly. “During the year I missed with the concussion it felt pretty long that year, but since the most recent lockout, things have really kind of flown by,” he said. “Now having played in most of the rinks and having played against most of the guys it starts to go by real quick.”

Board games

The NHL’s board of governors began two days of meetings Monday in Pebble Beach, but they weren’t expected to vote on expansion. The league’s executive committee and the board are still evaluating applications submitted by groups in Las Vegas and Quebec City for possible addition for the 2017-18 season.

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Also on the agenda: projecting the salary cap for next season, discussing compensation rules for coaches and executives who are signed by another team after being relieved of their jobs, reviewing three-on-three overtime, and evaluating the coach’s review process. There’s sentiment for reviews to be conducted in the NHL situation room in Toronto instead of by a referee using a small tablet device in the arena, and that makes sense in terms of getting the best clarity and detail.

Slap shots

•Buffalo will be the site of the World Junior Championships in 2018 and the event will include a preliminary-round game — likely between the U.S. and Canada — outdoors at Ralph Wilson Stadium. The tentative dates are Dec. 26, 2017, to Jan. 5, 2018. The tournament was last held in the U.S. in 2011.

•The Edmonton Oilers have found some stability in net. Anders Nilsson has been the linchpin of their three-game winning streak and 4-1-0 surge, stopping 174 of 193 shots (.951 save percentage) in that span. The 25-year-old Swede, a former backup with the New York Islanders, spent last season in the KHL and signed a one-year deal last summer with the Oilers, who acquired his rights from the Chicago Blackhawks.

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•St. Louis will lose forward Steve Ott for about three months because of surgery to repair both of his hamstrings.

•The Pac-12 network will televise its first two NCAA hockey games. Both will feature Arizona State — against Yale on Jan. 8 and against the U.S. under-18 select team on Feb. 28 — and both will be played at Gila River Arena in Glendale, Ariz., home of the Coyotes. Arizona State is the only Pac-12 school with a Division I hockey program.

helene.elliott@latimes.com

Twitter: @helenenothelen

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