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The Hart Trophy front-runner: Is Sid better than ever?

Crosby takes game to new level during Pens' 13-game winning streak

Posted: 03/28/2013 1:00 AM | Comments: 0

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PITTSBURGH -- Sidney Crosby has taken a lot of the decision-making out of GM Ray Shero's hands. The window is open for the Pittsburgh Penguins and Shero must do what he can to get his team through it.

Make no mistake, the reason the Penguins are among the NHL's favourites is due to Crosby and his play this season.

"Obviously he's the best player in the world," Montreal Canadiens goalie Carey Price said of Crosby following a 1-0 loss to the Pens on Tuesday night.

Crosby has regained his pre-concussion form and more and pushed the Penguins to 13 straight wins and first place in the Eastern Conference. Seeing the signs of his club moving from contender to favourite status, Shero waded into the trade market over the last week and acquired veteran forward Brenden Morrow before adding salty D-man Douglas Murray.

Sidney Crosby is at the height of his power and the Penguins are loading up for a Stanley Cup run. After a dismal locked-out start to this season, all appears right once again in the hockey world.

Crosby centres a line with wingers Chris Kunitz and Pascal Dupuis and they are the most potent in hockey right now, having scored at least once in 16 of the last 17 games. The Penguins have gone 15-2 and the line has scored 29 of the team's 58 goals. Crosby and Dupuis have eight goals each over that span while Kunitz has 13. The trio is the motor that has the Pens humming.

Crosby has 15 goals and leads the NHL in points (54) and assists (39) while averaging a league-best 1.59 points per game.

Post-concussion syndrome may have threatened his career last season, but there is no question Crosby is back.

"Two years ago, during the first 40 games of 2010, Sidney was on a high pace and we were having success and winning. The level of consistency in his game was the unique thing about his game," explained Penguins coach Dan Bylsma.

"It's easy to look at a highlight or NHL Network and see a great play and say, 'Hey man, that's awesome,' and you're going to see that with Sidney. But the consistency of which he plays at that level and doing those things night in and night out was the great thing in 2010 and you're now seeing that again. The way he's been playing and the level he's been at the majority if not all of this season, the way he's elevated his game in a lot of areas, the way he battles down low, he really is a power forward. He's not just a skill or speed guy. He's a power forward. But for me it's the consistency in which he's doing it right now that makes it maybe the highest level."

Crosby is both the best and worst person to talk about himself. He's been hearing the "greatest player in the world," comments all season from observers as qualified as Wayne Gretzky. And Crosby couldn't be the dominant player he is if he didn't believe in himself. But there's an air of humility about him and while he doesn't come across as guarded during interviews, he has the natural ability to not be boastful or arrogant when discussing his own body of work.

Wednesday was scheduled to be an off day for the 25-year-old from Cole Harbour, N.S., but when informed a reporter from Canada was hoping for a few minutes, he graciously agreed to a chat.

With most of the media already gone following the Penguins optional skate, Crosby walked out of the team complex and offered his hand to a stranger and then leaned against a wall facing his questioner like any 20-something at a local rink talking hockey with a friend.

"I look back to those few months in 2010 before I got hurt and probably think that's the best I've felt," said Crosby. "But I think this is the most comfortable I've been in terms of the speed of the game and with the condensed schedule and all the games it's been kind of nice to get thrown in and get back into it."

When told of Price's comments on Wednesday, Crosby made sure to spread around the praise.

"Any time you get compliments from opposing players you appreciate that and those are the guys you compete against every night. I think I'm pretty lucky with the guys I'm getting to play with and to be part of this team. We're playing good hockey. My mindset hasn't changed. We're trying to win," said Crosby. "When you are playing good hockey you want to take advantage of it. The league is just so competitive, when the chance is there you want to try and take it."

Tanner Glass left the Winnipeg Jets in the off-season to join the Penguins and pursue a Stanley Cup. He says his goal is in the best hands with Crosby.

"He's so good. I can't even tell you. He's not only one of the best skill guys in the league but he's also one of the best grinders. He almost never loses a battle for the puck," said Glass. "He can protect the puck and he's fun to watch. In my mind he's the best player in the world and his work ethic and daily approach will keep him there."

Glass says the recent moves by Shero have given his team a shot of confidence as the playoffs come knocking.

"It's nice to know management believes in us and is willing to try and do more to get us over the hump," said Glass. "Sid has taken the bull by the horns. He drives his line and he makes us tough to play against. I came here to win a Stanley Cup. That's what we're all here for."

With Crosby going the way he is right now, Tanner just might get a chance to drink out of a Cup rather than a glass.

gary.lawless@freepress.mb.ca Twitter: @garylawless

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 28, 2013 D3

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