Two-time MVP Sidney Crosby's 17 goals lead the NHL just over a quarter of the way into the season, even though he missed the first six games while recovering from a concussion
PITTSBURGH (AP) Sidney Crosby can't seem to find the right word for what's happening. If the Pittsburgh Penguins captain is being honest, he is not really interested in finding one. He would rather just enjoy a hot streak that is bordering on absurd even by his remarkably high standards.
The two-time MVP's 17 goals lead the NHL just over a quarter of the way into the season, even though he missed the first six games while recovering from a concussion. Even though injuries have forced head coach Mike Sullivan to shake up his lines. Even though Crosby insists he hasn't made some sort of conscious decision to pepper the opposing net.
''You can call it whatever you want,'' Crosby said.
Just don't call it luck.
''You don't get puck luck (that many) times,'' teammate Patric Hornqvist said. ''I just think he's in the right spot at the right time.''
Over and over and over again.
The game's most creative player is in the midst of a rebirth at 29, a renaissance that coincided with Sullivan's arrival last December. It's a union that has propelled Crosby to some of the finest hockey of his career. He captured the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP last June after the Penguins won their fourth Stanley Cup title and he hardly looked weary from a shorter than usual summer while captaining Team Canada to a remarkably easy stroll to the gold medal in the World Cup of Hockey in September.
The player who appeared on the other side of his prime a year ago has reclaimed his spot as face of the sport and appears in no mood to give up the mantle anytime soon. Not that Crosby wants to talk about it. He figures he's just doing what he's always done.
''I'm in the same spots, the same areas,'' said Crosby, who is putting the puck on net 3.5 times per game, just a slight uptick from with his usual average. ''When you think it's going in you tend to shoot a little bit more because you feel good, you believe it's going in ... When you're struggling a little bit, you feel you need to bring it closer or pass up a shot and make a pass. I think that's normal for everybody. That's pretty common.''
Crosby never met a teammate he didn't like to set up, but maybe he is finally getting a little selfish. It wasn't always that way.
''Playing against him in the past, I would try to make sure I was taking away passing lanes from him,'' said forward Eric Fehr, who spent nine years facing Crosby while skating for Washington before signing with Pittsburgh in 2015. ''You don't really expect him to pull up and shoot. You see him coming down in a 3 on 2 you're expecting him to lay it in somewhere. I think that's changed him a little bit and that makes him tough to defend.''
The proof came Monday night against Ottawa. Crosby and Hornqvist broke in on the rush in the first period and even though Hornqvist had a step on the defender, Crosby ripped a wrist shot over Craig Anderson's blocker instead.
Then there are the things Crosby does that are nearly impossible to defend, instances when his ability to read a play before it happens puts him a split second ahead of everyone else on the ice. His team trailing by a goal as the seconds ticked down against New Jersey last month, Crosby stood calmly off to the side during a scramble in front of the net, let things sort themselves out then picked the puck out of a sea of bodies and casually flipped it over goaltender Keith Kincaide to send the game to overtime.
Last week against Dallas, the athlete who once homered while taking batting practice at the home of baseball's Pittsburgh Pirates stunned everyone by trying to bank a shot in off Stars goaltender Antti Niemi from behind the net. When the puck bounced off Niemi and right back to him, Crosby swatted it out of midair . The puck smacked off the middle of Niemi's back and into the goal.
''Only a few players in the league can bank those in and it's always the same guys,'' Hornqvist said. ''If you have the skill, might as well do it.''
It's the type of thing that is happening for Crosby more and more and seems to represent his career coming full circle. He's only led the NHL in goals once, when he poured in 51 in 2009-10. He was on his way to doing it again the following year when he a hit to the head in the 2011 Winter Classic against Washington sent him on a nomadic path back that robbed him of the better part of two seasons. Some wondered if the magic would ever return in full.
It's also why the concussion he suffered in an early October practice raised so many alarm bells. Yet he preached calm instead of panic as he recovered, then went out and scored in his season debut against Florida as if to tell everyone to relax. It also started a run that shows no signs of slowing down.
''There's no really great way to describe it,'' he said. ''You just hope it keeps going in.''
This story has been corrected to delete a reference to a crosscheck to Crosby's head in the 2011 Winter Classic.