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Jets 87ed by Pittsburgh

Crosby's magnificent skills could take the so-so Penguins a long way

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Despite constant attention from the Jets, Pittsburgh Penguins captain Sidney Crosby picked up two points Thursday night and should have had more.

PHIL HOSSACK / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Enlarge Image

Despite constant attention from the Jets, Pittsburgh Penguins captain Sidney Crosby picked up two points Thursday night and should have had more. Photo Store

Nothing about the Pittsburgh Penguins right now gives the impression they're about to go on a lengthy playoff run. Nothing but the guy wearing No. 87.

The Pens, with a 4-2 win over the Jets on Thursday, have now won five of their last 11 games. Not exactly peaking for the playoffs, but it should be noted they've been locked into their No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference for some time.

They've now won three in a row, and leading this little push has been Crosby. He picked up a pair of assists Thursday and if linemate Beau Bennett hadn't whiffed on a number of chances that point total would have been much higher.

Crosby's vision and ability to find the open man is without compare and that was on full display in this game.

It's not exactly spoiler-alert stuff to say Crosby's the greatest player in the world.

It's been said before, been said a lot and will be repeated for some time. Mostly because it's true.

'Here's a guy who gets 100 points every year and his points per game is astonishing and historical. There's nothing about him in the way he plays the game that is about getting points and/or to win a scoring title. He plays to win. He brings that to our team every night'

-- Pens coach Dan Bylsma

The Penguins have issues right now, from injuries to Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang to prevailing questions about goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury's ability to win a playoff series.

All of these things stack up to put the Penguins' contender status in doubt. But then you come across Crosby and his numbers.

His 36 goals and 102 points stick out, as does the number of games played this season, at 77.

Crosby, who missed 113 games over the previous three seasons, is on the verge of playing a full campaign for the first time in his glorious career.

After a march to a gold medal in Sochi that featured more of Crosby's defensive game than his offence, he's once again healthy and at the height of his powers as the post-season approaches.

So before we write off the Penguins as easy fodder for the Boston Bruins and the rest of the Eastern Conference, Crosby might have something to say about it.

One guy who is happy to have Crosby running the way he is right now is Penguins coach Dan Bylsma.

"For a guy who has missed considerable hockey in the last couple of years, to have your team MVP and the guy leading the points, to have him in there every game is big for us," said Bylsma. "He relishes playing the game and when it's taken away from him, he misses it."

Crosby -- and maybe this was accurate earlier in his career but is no longer -- has sometimes been painted as a guy who is all about offence.

When a player has stacked up 100 points or more in five of his NHL seasons it's easy to reach that conclusion.

Team Canada coach Mike Babcock bristled at the suggestion during the Olympics that Crosby was struggling because his offensive production was low.

Babcock jabbed at the media, saying all he cared about Crosby doing was winning.

Bylsma says that's what Crosby does every day, whether it's for the Penguins in the NHL or Team Canada.

"Here's a guy who gets 100 points every year and his points per game is astonishing and historical. There's nothing about him in the way he plays the game that is about getting points and/or to win a scoring title. He plays to win.

"He brings that to our team every night," said Bylsma.

Can the Penguins knock off the Bruins? That's a tough sell.

But betting against Crosby and the game he's flashing these days is also a risk.

Just ask the Jets.

gary.lawless@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @garylawless

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 4, 2014 C3

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About Gary Lawless

Gary Lawless is the Free Press sports columnist and co-host of the Hustler and Lawless show on TSN 1290 Winnipeg and www.winnipegfreepress.com
Lawless began covering sports as a rookie reporter at The Chronicle-Journal in Thunder Bay after graduating from journalism school at Durham College in Ontario.
After a Grey Cup winning stint with the Toronto Argonauts in the communications department, Lawless returned to Thunder Bay as sports editor.
In 1999 he joined the Free Press and after working on the night sports desk moved back into the field where he covered pro hockey, baseball and football beats prior to being named columnist.

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