Crosby's urge to improve amazes execs

Sidney Crosby has ramped up his play again this season to the point where he is without question...

Sidney Crosby has ramped up his play again this season to the point where he is without question the best player in the game. (REUTERS/Ray Stubblebine)

CHRIS STEVENSON, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 4:59 PM ET

PALM BEACH, Fla. -- The NHL's movers and shakers are in Florida to discuss the business of hockey, for the most part, but it's tough to ignore what's happening on the ice.

Especially where Sidney Crosby is concerned.

The Pittsburgh Penguins captain has ramped up his play again this season to the point where he is without question the best player in the game. His sizzling scoring has been the talk in the hallways of The Breakers hotel.

Steven Stamkos, with his sizzling start, elbowed his way into the discussion about the best player in hockey early in the season. But the Tampa Bay Lightning forward has faded, while Crosby has had 18 goals and 15 assists in his past 16 games to take over the NHL scoring race from Stamkos.

Penguins general manager Ray Shero must love seeing players such as Stamkos or the Washington Capitals' Alex Ovechkin step up to challenge Crosby's dominance.

"Any time he's challenged, he raises his game," Shero said. "The Washington-Pittsburgh series, Ovechkin vs. Crosby, a couple of years ago. I think with Stamkos it's another way to measure himself, maybe. With all those guys, they want to be the top goal scorer, the top point producer. (Crosby) is driven by a lot of different things, but winning is certainly the utmost thing for him. Luckily."

Tampa general manager Steve Yzerman, who, as executive director of Team Canada saw Crosby score the golden goal at the Olympics in Vancouver, marvelled at Crosby's improvement this season.

"He's just getting better every year," Yzerman said. "He really works at every part of his game. You've just watched him develop in all aspects of the game whether it be his faceoff percentage, his shot (or his knack of) scoring goals in different ways -- he has always been a goal scorer, but he has added a wrist shot coming down the wing, a one-timer on the power play ... he's just continually adding to it.

"He's a great example for all young players that here we have one of the best players in our game, a young guy just driven to get better in all areas. It's so important because he can play in all situations and score the goal, set up the goal, he can win the faceoff, he'll block a shot. How valuable is that?"

Shero said Crosby constantly pinpoints areas to improve. He wanted to get better on faceoffs and he got better on faceoffs. He wanted to improve his shot, he improved his shot.

But Shero really loves the way Crosby has grown his game to dominate in all three zones. He compared him Tuesday with former New York Islanders great Bryan Trottier.

"Twenty or 25 years ago, Trottier was that kind of two-way player. He was one of my idols. He was killing penalties, winning draws and he was strong as an ox.

"As a manager, I feel very comfortable when Crosby's on the ice in our zone. He plays 200 feet, every inch of the ice. He can knock somebody off the puck and start the rush."

Crosby has improved his ability to score goals. He had 132 goals in his first 290 NHL games (.45 goals a game) and 75 in his past 110 (.68 goals a game).

"The thing over the last couple of years is his release, the puck is coming off his stick much better than it did a few years ago," Shero said. "He certainly has been working on that. He can zing it now. I'm not saying it's like Ovechkin or Stamkos shooting it, but he has quick hands. Before he was scoring a lot of goals from five or seven feet out. Now he's scoring them from outside because he can really shoot it.

"You don't see him slap it too often. He can come down the wing, look a guy off and beat the goalie high, glove hand. It's quite the art. Scoring 51 goals last year, I don't know anybody saw that coming. It has added another arsenal to his game."


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