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Sidney Crosby having best season of NHL career

Penguins captain on pace for 60 goals after recovering from concussion

by Wes Crosby / Correspondent

PITTSBURGH -- Sidney Crosby might be in the midst of the best season of his NHL career.

Which is saying something given the Pittsburgh Penguins captain's past success. But it's difficult to deny, however, when Crosby, who has 26 goals in 33 games, is on pace to score an NHL career-high 60 - in 76 games.

That would be rare air for Crosby, whose previous career high is 51 goals in 2009-10, but has not scored more than 39 in his other 11 seasons.

Heading into the Penguins game against the Washington Capitals at Verizon Center on Wednesday (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, TVA Sports, NHL.TV), Crosby has gone two straight games without a goal. That's another rarity; he has scored in 21 of 33 games and has gone consecutive games without a goal twice, in three straight from Dec. 14-17 and the past two.

Video: PIT@NJD: Sheary feeds Crosby for 25th goal of season

"I think when you're feeling good, when you're feeling confident, you're just able to react," Crosby said. "You're not really thinking about too much out there. We have a really good team here. Everyone's trying to worry about what they have to do to contribute and guys take what they do really seriously. We're a tight-knit group. So I think I'm just trying to do my job just like everyone else is trying to do theirs.

"That's all you have to focus on. You don't have to do too much or change anything. You just have to do your job and I think we've tried to do that as a group. I think everyone benefits individually when we're playing this way."

Despite playing eight fewer games than Los Angeles Kings forward Jeff Carter, Crosby leads him by four goals with an NHL-high 26 in 33 games.

That level of production doesn't surprise his teammates, including forward Chris Kunitz, who has played on a line with Crosby at various points during nine seasons in Pittsburgh.

"I think it's more that you are in awe and surprised by the things that he can do when he's on the ice and scoring the goals, but not necessarily the goals that follow," Kunitz said. "I think he evolves his game every year. He adjusts to how the League is changing and maybe he had a critique from the year before and he fixes it and goes out and scores a goal a game. … So I think he just challenges himself to get better."

Video: NJD@PIT: Crosby rips shot past Schneider for PPG

Crosby also challenges those around him, which has expedited the progression of 24-year-old linemates Conor Sheary and Bryan Rust, who each have 10 goals this season.

"I think last year was a little bit of a different experience, obviously coming up in your rookie season here," Sheary said. "You're kind of looking at the top guys as kind of stars still and you're kind of fans of them. So to play alongside him was a little bit different. I think this year I'm a little more comfortable with him.

"He's obviously a big communicator on the bench. When he sees a play, he'll tell you. I think that's good because if you don't learn from him, you're not going to learn how to play with him."

Three months ago Sheary wasn't sure if he'd have Crosby's on-ice leadership.

On Oct. 7, Crosby sustained a concussion during his second practice back from captaining Team Canada to the championship at the World Cup of Hockey 2016. He awoke the following morning with a headache severe enough to warrant missing the Penguins' final preseason game against the Columbus Blue Jackets.

After missing the first six regular-season games, he scored four goals in three games.

"I think I was more just hoping that it would be a short time," Crosby said of his recovery from the concussion. "It was something I had been through before. I knew that I just had to be patient with it. The fact that I was able to skate pretty early on was a good sign. It was a lot easier for me to stay patient, knowing I was closer. So I think if anything it was a little more encouraging just by the way I felt and the way I improved that things were going to be OK.

"You never know, but I was encouraged by everything."

Video: ARI@PIT: Crosby waits, bats puck in out of midair

The first few days following Crosby's third concussion in six years could have been the backbone of his current surge.

Crosby didn't practice Oct. 9, when his concussion was diagnosed. A day later he skated on his own at UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex, the Penguins' practice facility in Cranberry, Pennsylvania, and practiced in a yellow no-contact jersey the day after that.

Returning to the ice so quickly did more than keep Crosby patient. It preserved a high-level of play that started midway through last season and continued through the 2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs. He helped the Penguins win the Cup and won the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP (six goals, 13 assists). Then he helped Team Canada win the World Cup and was tournament MVP (three goals, seven assists).

Once he got his 2016-17 season going, his level of play has remained just as high.

"It's not easy with everyone having a full training camp and kind of stepping into that after not skating for a few weeks would have been difficult," Crosby said. "I was just thankful for that and felt like it was one of those things where it just kept progressing and that if it continued to feel well, it wouldn't be too long. It's still something you have to be smart with, but being able to skate a little bit and feel pretty good was a big benefit."

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