Penguins' Crosby at top of his game again
It's been almost a year now, having watched his team dispatch the Penguins in a first-round playoff series, that Flyers coach Peter Laviolette pronounced Claude Giroux the world's finest hockey player.
Giroux has 23 points in 24 games this season, and, like the rest of NHL, again is looking up at Sidney Crosby entering the Flyers-Penguins matchup Thursday at Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia.
Statistics are telling in Crosby's ascent, but an assessment from one of hockey's stars speaks volumes.
“A healthy Sidney Crosby is pretty hard to argue with,” said Tampa Bay star Steven Stamkos, who trails Crosby by two points in the scoring race. “Everyone can have their own opinion, but exciting things happen when he touches the puck. The way he's playing right now, since he got back healthy, he's just a force right now.”
Crosby's teammates see it, too. Their captain was producing points during the season's first few weeks, but he wasn't all the way back. He was committing uncharacteristic turnovers and losing occasional battles on the boards, something that usually never happens.
At some point during the past month, the Penguins say they believe the real Crosby surfaced, the rust of playing 28 games in 24 months finally brushed aside.
“Don't know exactly when it happened,” defenseman Matt Niskanen said, “but it did.”
Crosby produced seven points in the season's first seven games — all in January. That is in line with his history.
Crosby's lowest point-per-game total (1.32) of any month comes in October, normally the first month of the season. That despite the fact goal scoring spikes the first month because penalties typically are called at a higher rate and defensive systems haven't yet been solidified.
Crosby's numbers skyrocketed when the calendar turned to February. Scoring league-wide, meanwhile, dropped almost a half-goal.
“He's always going to elevate his game as the season goes on,” linemate Pascal Dupuis said. “He gets ramped up as the season goes on and gets better and better when situations require it. We're getting to that time of year for him.”
Since the beginning of February, Crosby has produced 29 points in 16 games. He has at least one point in 13 of those games. Crosby has recorded seven three-point nights during that span.
“He's been good all year,” Niskanen said. “But now he's got that next element in his game. He literally feels like he's going to bust a big play every time he has the puck. He's also dominating down low a lot more.”
Niskanen, like others in the Penguins' locker room, said he believes there is a clear No. 1 player in the hockey right now.
“You can make arguments for whoever you want,” Niskanen said. “Sid is different than everyone else. He's just got something more.”
Crosby is modest when describing his current play, mentioning he “feels good” and is more confident shooting than he was in January. He lets his teammates do the talking.
“Everything is clicking for him right now,” said defenseman Mark Eaton, who was with Crosby for two runs to the Stanley Cup Final. “You can see that he's mentally and physically in a good place. I'd have to agree with Stamkos. No one really compares to Sid right now.”