Crosby now in league on his own

There's no end in sight to Sidney Crosby's upward development. (Bruce Bennett/Getty Images/AFP)

There's no end in sight to Sidney Crosby's upward development. (Bruce Bennett/Getty Images/AFP)

ROB LONGLEY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 10:27 AM ET

PITTSBURGH — It could have happened when he won his first Stanley Cup.

Or when he led Canada to a gold medal at the 2010 Olympics.

Or last April when he reached 50 goals for the first time in his career.

At any one of those times, Sidney Crosby we could have ditched the Sid the Kid handle with the recognition that perhaps the superstar had arrived in the prime of his career.

The only problem is there appears to be no end in sight to the upward curve for the Pittsburgh Penguins captain, who over his past 16 games may be playing the best in his young but remarkably accomplished life in hockey.

Leading the Penguins to a 10-game win streak and starting to distance himself in the scoring race from the other young NHL stars, Crosby is making plays that are even surprising his teammates.

“When you’ve got guys on our bench looking at each other and shaking their heads and saying: ‘Did you see that?’ ... it’s a pretty special play,” Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said following a Penguins practice on Tuesday in advance of a Wednesday date with the Maple Leafs.

“We’ve seen him do special things a lot — the highlight reel is long. But the consistency level is there now. There’s no cheat (to his play). What we’re seeing right now is pretty unique night in and night out.”

Former teammate Bill Guerin, in town to announce his retirement this week, put it even more succinctly.

“What Sidney’s doing right now, it’s like an assault on the game,” Guerin said.

And, as the numbers emphatically support, the bullets are coming from everywhere.

With 24 goals and 24 assists in 29 games, Crosby is starting to dominate like he never has before. On pace for a 135-point season, if he keeps this up, the Nova Scotia native will have the most productive season since his boss, Penguins owner Mario Lemieux, piled up 161 points in 1995-96.

“It’s capitalizing on your chances,” Crosby said when asked why he’s playing the best statistically in his career. “I don’t feel like I’m getting that many more chances than I have in the past.

“I think at this point I’m just making the most of my opportunities. I don’t feel any different.”

Humble as always, Crosby is no authority on his own performance.

Once pegged as more of a playmaker, in each of his five previous seasons Crosby has had more assists than goals, often dramatically so. Complementing those skills were the occasional timely goal and defensive responsibility not always embraced by the game’s most skilled players.

But every year, Crosby looks to improve. This year, it would seem, the great leap forward is in a scoring touch and shot that weren’t always his main artillery.

“It’s as good as I’ve seen any hockey player play,” Penguins forward Pascal Dupuis said. “He’s on the top of his game, not only putting points on the board but blocking shots, winning faceoffs and playing in his own zone.

“He’s at another level right now. Now one can even compare.”

Throughout his career, Crosby’s motivation has always come from within. Not one for bold and brash, he has been content to let his play carry the commentary.

But timely enough, isn’t it, that Crosby’s latest surge is coming at a time when a couple other notable younger players are making noise. Washington Capitals’ Alex Ovechkin, who has linked with Crosby for a couple of seasons now is one, for no other reason than the HBO documentary crews that are tailing bout the Caps and Pens.

The other is young Tampa star Steven Stamkos, who appeared on a recent cover of the Hockey News with the declaration of “The NHL’s New Best Player.”

As you would expect, Penguins players scoff at that provocative headline. When asked about it, Crosby is polite as usual, suggesting the topic could make for a lively discussion.

“It’s a pretty common argument or debate and that’s for other people to decide,” Crosby said Tuesday in the comfort of the Penguins dressing room. “I’m sure (Stamkos) wants to be his best and I want to be mine.”

As for reaching the prime of his career, Crosby doesn’t sound like a guy who believes his will arrive any time soon.

“Your prime what is that?,” Crosby said. “You have one good year at 24 and that’s your prime?

“I think it’s different for everybody. I think it depends on a lot of things. When you come in, everybody develops differently and adjusts and depending on your situation and role with the team.”

Bylsma believes that as long as Crosby is in the game, he’ll never play like he’s reached the zenith. The shot can always be harder and more precise, the next pass more crisp.

“Sidney Crosby is always going to be trying to get better no matter what age he’s at,” Bylsma said.

“If he gets to the point he’s playing at an older age, he’s still going to be getting better. He’s in that process right now and I think he will be in it right to the end.”

On Monday, Crosby played the 400th game of his career and at age 23, that marks a significant body of work. But even those who have been around him for a while are noticing a new level of excellence.

“He doesn’t seem like a young captain any more,” forward Tyler Kennedy said. “He carries himself so well. He’s a great role model for young guys and even older guys.

“It’s hard to tell with a guy like that but if he get’s any better ... I don’t know.”

rob.longley@sunmedia.ca

twitter.com/longleysunsport


Videos

Photos