Sidney Crosby might be approaching an identity crisis.
While the Pittsburgh Penguins captain is certainly used to being the hottest player in the NHL, his most recent surge has come in an unfamiliar way. Crosby has 10 goals in as many games for the first time in his NHL career and raised an interesting question in the process – can he score 50 in a season?
Even he’s not sure.
“I don’t consider myself a sniper, per se,” Crosby said during a conference call Monday. “You think of guys that score 50, you look at guys like (Dany) Heatley, (Alex) Ovechkin, guys like this. You never know – it depends on the season and basically the opportunities you get and if you’re able to capitalize.
“There’s a lot of things that can affect that, but it would be something I’d love to do for sure. Whether or not it’s possible, I really couldn’t tell you.”
Anyone who has watched his recent play closely might be feeling a tad more certain that it’s at least a possibility. Crosby registered his second career hat trick on Saturday night and easily could have scored a couple more if not for some good saves from Devils goalie Scott Clemmensen.
He’s now scored 13 times in 24 games, putting him on pace to eclipse the 39 he had as a rookie in 2005-06 and within reach of the magical 50 mark.
The former Art Ross Trophy winner has traditionally done most of his damage as a playmaker, but is currently taking half a shot more per game on average than he did during his first three NHL seasons.
He also might be benefitting from a little more playing time with Evgeni Malkin. Coach Michel Therrien frequently juggles his forward units and has used his team’s two best players together at times this season.
That suits them just fine.
“We enjoy it,” said Crosby. “It’s one of those things where hopefully teams are going to focus on one of us and the other guy’s going to get a little more space.
“When we’re out there together, that happens a bit.”
Heading into Monday’s games, Malkin and Crosby were the top two point-getters in the NHL.
That represents quite a turnaround for Crosby after a slow start to the season. He was bothered by some nagging injuries early on – missing most of a game in Phoenix with a sore hip – and had just three goals through 14 games.
It’s been a totally different story since, prompting coach Therrien to remark that No. 87 has had “fire in his eyes.”
“Everything has kind of come together a little bit more,” said Crosby. “I feel like I’ve played better and been rewarded for that.”
Coincidentally, Crosby’s improved play has come directly after he was criticized by Washington Capitals forward Alexander Semin.
Speaking to a reporter in Russian, Semin was quoted as saying: “What’s so special about (Crosby)? I don’t see anything special there. Yes, he does skate well, has a good head, good pass. But there’s nothing else.”
For his part, Crosby has taken the high road and refused to respond with tough comments of his own.
“I don’t think I really have to defend myself with words,” said Crosby. “I play the game and I play the way I feel I have to and the way I feel is the right way. If that’s not up to someone’s standards, then that’s fine. And if they feel like they have to have their opinion heard, that’s fine too.
“That’s not really the way I go about it.”
The desire to let his play do the talking extends far beyond the Semin issue.
Even though some would like the face of the NHL to speak out more, Crosby says that simply isn’t his style. He prefers to be more like Michael Jordan or Tiger Woods than outspoken stars such as Shaquille O’Neal or Terrell Owens.
“That’s not who I am,” said Crosby. “And because of the situation I’m in, I don’t feel like I should have to change who I am.”
Unless something changes dramatically over the coming month or two, fans in Montreal can expect to see him suiting up at the Bell Centre during the all-star game.
Crosby led all players in voting the past two years but currently finds himself behind the six Habs who stand to start for the Eastern Conference on Jan 25.
If that ends up happening, Sid the Kid won’t be upset.
“It would be nice to be at the all-star game, period,” said Crosby. “So if I’m not a starter, that’s fine. I’ll be happy to be there.
“It’s a voting thing so if those guys are the top six and they’re voted, then they deserve to be the starters.”