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Sidney Crosby, Penguins still among NHL’s ‘best-in-the-league’ conversation

Sidney Crosby controls the puck against the Colorado Avalanche at Pepsi Center on Dec. 9 in Denver.

Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

Here's a minor anecdote about poise involving someone who has enviable reserves of it, even if they've occasionally become depleted in the NHL postseason.

As assorted reporters and camera crews crowded around Pittsburgh Penguins captain Sidney Crosby late Saturday evening, a trainer lobbed a water bottle to a Pens player a few feet away.

Now, the visiting dressing room at the Bell Centre is a cramped, spartan place, but it does have modern conveniences. Like ceiling fans, which are low-hanging.

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Plastic container met spinning fan blades, there was an almighty crash and an impromptu shower for the people who had the misfortune of standing nearby.

Crosby never flinched, finishing his answer with only the barest pause and a vaguely amused expression. His only concession to surprise was a mild and off-hand "gee".

The 28-year-old's good humour had at least something to do with Pittsburgh's nip-and-tuck 3-1 win over the conference rival Montreal Canadiens, but it's also good to be Crosby these days.

An unusual – for him – barren spell during the early part of the season is finally in the past. His team is also starting to live up to its advanced billing.

Both the stats and the eye test suggest the guy in the No. 87 jersey is once again a force to be reckoned with, even if his point-per-game pace over the past 12 starts is below his typical output, which for the first nine years of his career has been at historic great levels.

It's probably overstating things to say we are witnessing the reinvention of Sidney Crosby – even if we were, it's hard to tell from the middle of it – but it does appear to at least be a revision of his on-the-ice reputation.

Crosby has always been a multidimensional player, but in recent weeks the offensive part of his skills hasn't necessarily been dominant.

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He acknowledged as much before the game.

"What gets you here, what makes you successful, doesn't change. It's hard work and finding ways. Sometimes you have to adapt and adjust," he said. "On a personal level I wasn't getting the points I probably wanted but at the same time we were struggling as a team, too. There's a lot that goes into that. Just trying to make sure you're doing a lot of other little things out there."

He also admitted it was odd to look at the scoring leaders list and not see his name – "Yeah, I mean you want to be better … you don't want to find yourself in that position," he said.

Cursory analysis might track Crosby's resurgence to the point last month when coach Mike Sullivan took over from Mike Johnston, but Crosby disputes that.

"Probably late November, I started getting more chances. They weren't necessarily going in, but I felt like I was having more of an impact on the game. Sometimes when you don't score it doesn't mean you're not playing well and doing good things."

Though he didn't score or register a point on the weekend, the centre was central to the action (although in at least one circumstance he'd probably prefer not to talk about, losing a faceoff that led directly to Team Canada teammate P.K. Subban's first goal in 34 games).

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But Crosby swooped, he swirled, he shot, he dished. On a couple of occasions he encountered the business end of stout Montreal defenceman Alexei Emelin's shoulder pads.

At one point he gathered a loose puck near his own blueline, spooled up some speed at centre ice, then threw a rapid-fire stickhandle at Montreal defenceman Mark Barberio before running him over (the puck would ultimately squirt away, but it was a good illustration of Crosby's trademark strength and quick hands).

With his team nursing a one-goal lead in the third, Crosby made an astute backcheck with Pittsburgh on the power-play, reeling in Montreal's Paul Byron – surely one of five or six fastest skaters in the NHL – to negate a rush.

But the highlight reel moment was a favourable bounce that brought the puck to Crosby all alone at the side of the net with no checker in sight. He zipped a quick forehand, which Montreal goalie Mike Condon snared with a flourish.

"I think he made it look nicer than it had to be," Crosby said afterward with a smile. "I didn't have much of an angle there, but still when you're alone like that and you have time, you want to put it in. I didn't have a ton of space anywhere, that's pretty much where I had to go, maybe a little lower if I had to do it again."

These things happen. In truth Condon was the only man standing between the Pens and a blowout.

With a little better luck and some finish from his linemates, Crosby would have had a goal and at least a couple of assists on the night.

The consensus in the Montreal room: Crosby was his typical handful.

To watch his game closely on Saturday night was to see a player who isn't about to drop out of the best-in-the-league conversation.

The decline, which affects all pro athletes, will have to wait.

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About the Author
National Correspondent

Sean Gordon joined the Globe's Quebec bureau in 2008 and covers the Canadiens, Alouettes and Impact, as well as Quebec's contingent of Olympic athletes. More


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