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Penguins' Crosby turning heads with scoring resurgence

| Saturday, Feb. 13, 2016, 8:15 p.m.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
The NHL has taken notice of Sidney Crosby's recent scoring surge.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Sidney Crosby on the possibility of catching Patrick Kane for the scoring title: 'I've come a long way from where I was. Let's put it in perspective. It was a tough start. It's gone better now.'

RALEIGH, N.C. — For the first six seasons of his career, Carolina Hurricanes center Jordan Staal had Sidney Crosby as a teammate. For the past four seasons, he often has been tasked with defending Crosby.

Staal has learned something in that time: Never be surprised by anything Crosby does.

The scoring spree Crosby has been on lately, the stretch of 18 goals and 34 points in 22 games that rescued him from a brutal, early-season slump? Staal practically saw it coming.

“He's so determined and so talented that he's going to work himself out of it,” Staal said. “You're just crossing your fingers he doesn't do it against your team.”

The magnitude of Crosby's offensive surge might best be illustrated through the prism of the NHL scoring race.

Thanks to a five-game scoring drought at the start of the season, 408 players recorded at least one goal or assist before Crosby tallied his first point Oct. 20. All the way through Thanksgiving, he didn't rank among the league's top 100 scorers.

Slowly but surely, he began a steady climb. Just before Mike Johnston was fired as coach, Crosby had a stretch of 10 points in nine games.

Then, a few games into coach Mike Sullivan's tenure, Crosby began to rocket up the charts.

A goal against New Jersey on Jan. 26 lifted him into the top 20 in scoring. A three-point performance in a seven-minute span during a memorable comeback win over Florida on Feb. 6 moved him into the top 10. With a four-point night against Anaheim two days after that, he was in the top five.

In his public comments, Crosby is perhaps the most relentlessly and unfailingly team-first figure in pro sports.

Ask him a question about “your performance,” and he'll always assume the pronoun is plural, starting his answer with “we.”

Still, though, he cares about where he stands in the scoring race.

“If I'm climbing up, that means I'm giving us goals. If we have a chance to win every night because of that, I guess that's the product of it,” Crosby said. “Sometimes you can judge your game on goals and points. Sometimes you can't. I feel like it's going in right now. You just try to ride it as long as you can because it's not always like that. It's not going to happen like that all the time.”

With Crosby's status among the league's top scorers reaffirmed, only one big question remains: Could he actually make a run at Chicago's Patrick Kane and win the Art Ross Trophy as the league's leading scorer for the third time in his career?

It's a long shot — Crosby has 53 points with 28 games left in his season, and Kane had 77 points with 24 games to go entering Saturday — but it's something people are talking about.

If Crosby keeps up his pace, and Kane has a slump or a minor injury, who knows?

“People say a lot of stuff. I'm not worried about (catching Kane),” Crosby said. “I've come a long way from where I was. Let's put it in perspective. It was a tough start. It's gone better now.”

If Crosby catches Kane, there's at least one person who wouldn't be surprised, of course.

Staal.

“It's a long way to go,” he said, “but he's a guy that can do it.”

Jonathan Bombulie is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at jbombulie@tribweb.com or via Twitter at @BombulieTrib.

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