PITTSBURGH — Bill Guerin played alongside Sidney Crosby in Pittsburgh for more than a season, so even though he’s retired and watching from afar, he knows what Crosby is up to these days is beyond special.
It’s beyond what the NHL has seen for a long time. Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux scored like this, dazzled like this, singularly decided game after game like Crosby is doing. But no one else has since they left the game.
“I was lucky enough to play against Gretzky, play against Mario, (Jaromir) Jagr, those guys,” said Guerin, who scored 429 goals in his career. “But what Sidney’s doing right now, it’s like an assault on the game. I think he’s so driven, like a player that I’ve never seen before.”
It’s more like an assault on goaltenders.
At 23, Crosby has already won a Stanley Cup, the NHL MVP award and a scoring title. He’s a Canadian icon and was chosen as Maclean’s newsmaker of the year for his Olympic gold medal-winning goal. Yet to talk to him, it’s almost as if he has so much more to do, so much more to prove.
In a league where blanketing defences, lineman-sized rearguards and excellent goaltending make goal-scoring increasingly difficult, Crosby is accumulating statistics rarely seen since the early 1990s. Crosby has at least one point — and usually a lot more — in 17 consecutive games while leading the Penguins on an 11-game winning streak.
During his own streak, Crosby has 20 goals and 15 assists, or more points than all but two NHL players have all season. He has four multiple-goal games in his last six alone, and is on pace for 71 goals and 136 points in an era when 100-point scorers are increasingly rare.
After scoring two goals Wednesday against Toronto, Crosby needs 24 over his next 20 contests to become only the sixth player with 50 goals in his team’s first 50 games. Brett Hull, in 1992, was the last player to reach that.
Ridiculous? Perhaps not, considering that a driven Crosby has nine goals in his last four home games alone. No wonder the Penguins, as of Friday, won’t have lost a game in regulation for exactly a month.
“Honestly, I think it’s pretty farfetched for that to happen,” Crosby said of 50 in 50. “Maybe someday, somebody will do it and, if they do, it’s unbelievable. It’s pretty easy not to think about it because I don’t see it happening.”
It was difficult for anyone to see the second-longest winning streak in Penguins’ history occurring, especially given they began the season with a 6-7-1 record. But since Crosby began simulating Lemieux, the Penguins are 14-2-1.
Penguins’ head coach Dan Bylsma said Crosby is doing it without any slippage in his increasingly diverse game. Crosby, for example, wasn’t strong on faceoffs when he came into the league at age 18 in 2005. Yet, he’s now the league leader in faceoffs won.
“He’s making a lot of special plays and it seems to be every night,” Bylsma said. “I think the unique part about this situation right now is the consistency at which he’s there. His highlight reel is long, but the consistency with which he’s playing, there’s no cheat, there’s no holes, there’s no ’on his own page.’ It’s within the structure of our team and how we want to play.”
There’s almost no privacy, either.
Crosby is being dogged daily by an HBO crew taping his every move for a series of specials leading up to the Winter Classic against Washington and co-star Alex Ovechkin on Jan. 1. While he values his privacy and guards his image, Crosby doesn’t seem overly concerned the shows might reveal that his on-ice vocabulary contains curse words. For now, though, he’s drawing the line at being taped inside his home.
Like Guerin, Tampa Bay Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman won’t need to watch the shows to know what he’s seeing.
At the NHL board of governors meetings this week, Yzerman said Crosby is the best possible role model for young players because he blocks shots, wins faceoffs and create goals with his passing, not just with his shooting. It’s the kind of multitasking few superstar-level players are willing to do.
Even after the Penguins won the Stanley Cup in 2009, Crosby spent that summer working on his shooting, and his goal production jumped from 33 that season to 51 in 2009-10. This season, he has 26 goals and 50 points in only 30 games.
Crosby won’t guess whether, despite seemingly having years and years left to play, this might be the prime of his career.
“It’s different for everybody,” he said. “It depends on a lot of things — when you come in, your situation, your role on the team. I guess the average, I would say, is 25 to whatever. But with guys coming in as young as they are now, it might be a little earlier.”
The Penguins have built their Crosby-led winning streak despite minimal contributions from the injured Evgeni Malkin (knee), who has one goal since Nov. 13, and none from forward Jordan Staal (foot, hand), who hasn’t played this season.
“Imagine how things are going to roll when those two come back,” forward Pascal Dupuis said.