Crosby Erases All Doubt About No. 1

Steve Murray
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Wednesday - January 05, 2011
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Welcome to No. 1, Mr. Crosby.

The Pittsburgh Penguins’ center has been the focal point of National Hockey League marketing since he made his debut in 2005, but the talented 23-year-old could never be considered the game’s best. Until now.

From Nov. 3 to Dec. 29, Sidney Crosby did not play a game in which he did not score, finishing with 26 goals and 24 assists in those 25 contests to take over the unofficial title from Alexander Ovechkin.

Crosby’s elevation in the ranks is based on his off-season work and his in-season development that have seen the Halifax native improve his defense and, most important, his maturity.

Often labeled a whiner to those outside Pittsburgh, Crosby would complain frequently to officials at even the most mild of offenses. He also could be taken off his game by the better needlers in the league. That’s not the case any more. Crosby doesn’t gripe nearly as much nor does he allow players such as Ovechkin to get under his skin with the regularity of old. This has gone a long way in changing not just how he is perceived by fans and other players, but how effective he is while on the ice. One need look no further than Nicklas Lidstrom to see the value of on-ice professionalism.

Crosby is not likely to pick up the Selke Trophy (given to the best defensive forward), but his work in the defensive zone is much improved, and offensive numbers have a tendency to influence defensive voting, so becoming a finalist is not out of the question.

His growth is even more impressive when considering that he has upped his play at the very time his team is in need of more scoring. Evgeni Malkin remains a top-tier player, but is not scoring at the pace he did two years ago when he tallied 113 points. The Penguins also are without the services of center Jordan Staal, who was to move up to the second line with Malkin’s shift to the wing, but has missed the entire season with a broken hand.

Crosby was prevented from occupying the top spot because he lacked Ovechkin’s gift for scoring or Pavel Datsyuk’s ability to control the game on both ends of the ice. He has even been pressed by his team-mate Malkin, and could find himself on the outside looking in should Tampa’s Steven Stamkos continue his already scary-fast development.

The Penguins’ second-favorite son stalled long before he had a chance to assault Wayne Gretzky’s mark of scoring in 51 consecutive games. But while his streak is only the 11th-longest in league history, his is the longest since 1990 when the league entered the so-called dead puck era when the goal orgy days of the 1980s gave way to the defense-centered philosophies that dominated in the ‘90s and beyond. But the point isn’t to argue that Crosby is ready to supplant Gretzsky on the sport’s Mount Rushmore. He’ll never approach Gretzky’s scoring numbers, just as old No. 99 wasn’t ever going to be a three-way threat like Gordie Howe.

Crosby is the best player in the game today but no lock for Hart Trophy honors. The Lightning, though poor on defense, are contenders behind Stamkos, with the ageless Lidstrom playing like he’s 10 years younger. The voting should be close.

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