He’s been through a lot, so perhaps the years weigh more heavily than on regular mortals.
How else to explain the reaction when Sidney Crosby is informed that Monday marks a decade since he scored the “lacrosse goal” that vaulted a 16-year-old Rimouski Oceanic rookie into the public consciousness – and infuriated the self-appointed guardians of the game’s orthodoxy.
Crosby’s eyes widen.
“Jeez, that long? Ten years ago,” he says, “I feel old now.”
It’s a faintly ridiculous statement. Of course he isn’t old, not really.
But at 26, Sid is no longer the kid. He has been an NHL player for a little more than eight years; last Friday, he scored the 250th goal of his career – a game winner – and became just the fifth player in NHL history to do so before his 500th career game.
Here he is, leading the NHL in scoring with 30 points in 24 games, even if he’s only just starting to find his best form.
“The last four or five [games], I feel like there’s a ton of chances ... it’s important to be consistent and consistently get those chances,” he said after a 3-2 Pittsburgh setback against his childhood faves, the Montreal Canadiens.
It’s been a while since he was able to take the long view.
Going back to last year’s playoffs, Crosby has now played 38 injury-free games; four more and it will be longest such stretch since his now-famous concussion on Jan. 1, 2011.
Crosby hasn’t yet matched the frenetic pace that he set before suffering a relapse in 2011-12, but over his past 82 regular-season games, he’s notched a gaudy 123 points.
Crosby put up monster numbers in his last Olympic season – scoring a career-high 51 goals to go along with his golden goal in Vancouver. No one should bet against a recurrence.
Beyond the points and goals, Crosby is playing with the abandon and desire that can set him apart.
“I don’t know if the milestone of 250 goals drives the point home, but he leads our team with his work ethic and how he plays. It’s not as much the skill,” said Pens coach Dan Bylsma.
Against the Habs, Crosby turned in something of an un-Sid performance – though he managed four shots and a flurry of perfect set-ups for linemates Pascal Dupuis and Chris Kunitz, he also went six-for-27 in faceoffs and led the game in post-whistle jawing and jousting.
The main source of his frustration: Montreal centre Tomas Plekanec, who makes a point of trying to get on Crosby’s nerves.
“That’s his weakness. Everybody knows that,” said Plekanec, who was treated to a lengthy tirade from Crosby at centre ice after making the score 3-0 (“I was just listening. I’m a good listener,” Plekanec said).
When Crosby was asked about Plekanec after the game, he said “he’s a little guy who plays hard, and isn’t afraid to get his stick up or do those things.”
Yeah, like that.
But even when Crosby is out of sorts, he is still a force of relentless brilliance.
Early in the first period Saturday, he drove down the middle of the ice to draw a penalty.
Later, he laid a stunner of an inside-outside move on the Habs’ Josh Gorges that accomplished the rare feat of making a veteran NHL defenceman look silly (Kunitz couldn’t convert).
Shortly after that, he roared in on the fore-check, anticipated goalie Carey Price’s clearance, got a stick on it, then headed to the corner, where he proceeded to win the puck and nearly succeeded in jamming it past Price.
Crosby then retrieved the puck behind the net, flipping it to an uncovered Dupuis, who flubbed two quick chances.
“It’s unbelievable, you can never let your guard down with him … to be honest with you, it’s pretty fun to watch him out there sometimes,” said Montreal defenceman P.K. Subban, who along with partner Andrei Markov and Plekanec was key in thwarting No.87.
The famously chirpy Subban insisted he said very little to Crosby, despite video evidence to the contrary.
“I just asked him how his day was going, what he had for his pre-game meal. I had my notepad out. Maybe it’ll get me a couple more goals ... with those types of guys, you try not to talk too much, it’s a respect thing, and I have a tremendous amount of respect for him,” he said.
That may be a Team Canada hopeful being nice to a player whose name is already on the Olympic roster in indelible ink.
Or it might just happen to be heartfelt.
The sum of Crosby’s parts make him the best player in hockey. The bad news for opponents is now he’s starting to feel like it again.