As Sidney Crosby has closed in on the 1,000th point of his NHL career during the past few weeks, the Pittsburgh Penguins captain hasn't been able to avoid thinking about how fast it seems to be flying by.
To Crosby, it doesn't feel it was that long ago when he made his NHL debut as an 18-year-old and earned his first point with an assist in a 5-1 loss to the New Jersey Devils on Oct. 5, 2005. Now 29 and in his 12th season in the NHL, Crosby is eight points from becoming the 86th player to score 1,000 points and the fastest among active players to reach the milestone.
Where did the time go?
"That's the biggest thing that comes to mind," Crosby said. "You're happy to be near [1,000 points], but at the same time it kind of reminds you how quick it goes by."
Crosby hasn't had any trouble keeping up in a game that seems to get younger and faster every season. In fact, he's arguably playing the best hockey of his career.
Heading into a game against the Boston Bruins at TD Garden on Thursday (7 p.m. ET; TVA Sports, NESN, ROOT, NHL.TV), Crosby leads the NHL with 28 goals and is tied with teammate Evgeni Malkin for second with 54 points, two behind Connor McDavid of the Edmonton Oilers. Despite missing Pittsburgh's first six games while recovering from a concussion, Crosby is on pace to finish with 52 goals, a career high, and 100 points in 76 games.
The Penguins are 30-12-5 with 65 points, in third place in the Metropolitan Division.
This comes after he won the Stanley Cup for the second time last season, was awarded the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP, captained Team Canada to the World Cup of Hockey 2016 championship and was voted the tournament's most valuable player in September.
But Crosby hesitates to say he's on the best run of his career.
Video: WSH@PIT: Crosby finishes Sheary's nice cross-ice dish
"It's hard to compare to different years," he said. "There's so many little things that happen and details within the game that you can be doing a lot of things right and the puck doesn't go in, and then other times you get bounces and things like that. I feel good. I feel like I'm generating a lot of chances. We feel like we're winning and everyone else is winning, and that's pushing us to be better, too."
As easy as Crosby sometimes makes the game look, it hasn't always been a smooth path for him with injuries -- concussion-related issues caused him to miss 107 games during 2010-11, 2011-12 and this season -- and other setbacks. That's why he knows it's important to appreciate milestones like this one.
"Obviously, it's a great number, 1,000 points," he said. "To be able to join the list of guys who have achieved that would be very special."
Crosby, who has 366 goals and 626 assists in 748 NHL games, saw Alex Ovechkin of the Washington Capitals get his 1,000th point against the Penguins on Jan. 11 and understood as well as anyone his rival's sentiment that, "It means I'm getting old." Crosby and Ovechkin came into the NHL together in 2005-06.
"It's funny to see that was 11 years ago and here we are [reaching 1,000 points] around the same time," Crosby said. "So we're pretty lucky."
Ovechkin got his 1,000th point in his 885th game, making him the second-fastest active player to reach the milestone behind Jaromir Jagr, who did it in 763 games. With one game left before the All-Star break, Crosby will have to wait until after returning from 2017 Honda NHL All-Star Game in Los Angeles on Sunday (3:30 p.m. ET; NBC, CBC, SN, TVA Sports, NHL.TV) to complete his pursuit, but he's on pace to beat Jagr's mark and become the 12th-fastest in NHL history to get to 1,000.
"It's always fun seeing him out there, and when you get recognized for getting that many points, it's special that he's done it in so [few] games," Penguins left wing Chris Kunitz said. "Everyone hits milestones at different points, but he does it at an elite, elite pace that only a select few ever have."
Although it's easy to forget now, a little more than a year ago, Crosby and the Penguins were struggling. Crosby got off to a terrible start last season; he had 19 points (six goals, 13 assists) in Pittsburgh's first 28 games.
Video: BOS@PIT: Crosby uses soft hands to finish a backhand
But after Mike Sullivan replaced Mike Johnston as coach on Dec. 12, 2015, Crosby had 66 points (30 goals, 36 assists) in his last 50 regular-season games. That roll continued into the Stanley Cup Playoffs, when he had 19 points (six goals, 13 assists) in 24 games, and then the World Cup and this season.
Sullivan has seen firsthand that these things don't happen by accident.
"I've really grown to admire Sid in his daily endeavors," Sullivan said. "He's a relentless worker. For a guy that's as talented as he is, he has such an insatiable appetite to be the best. He's working on parts of his game every single day to make sure that he's at his best and he helps this team win. I think just the fact that he's approaching that [1,000-point] milestone in his personal career is a testament to the player and the person that he is."
Crosby's work ethic in practice has been well-documented. He toils tirelessly before and after practices on his shot and deflections, because he can see the benefits of that work.
Crosby credits an increased number of deflection goals -- he has nine -- for his career-best .204 shooting percentage this season.
"There is a legacy to be left here for him but it's all about leaving the right one," said Penguins assistant general manager Bill Guerin, who played with Crosby on Pittsburgh's 2009 Stanley Cup championship team. "He's very conscious of his responsibility as the best player in the world right now, and it goes from the way he approaches the game to the way he approaches his teammates and his fans and everything. He feels a responsibility, and I think that's really driving him.
"He wants to be as good as he can be. He's not going to leave anything on the table."
To Crosby, "what drives you is winning." He has two Stanley Cup rings. He'd like more.
But wanting to win alone isn't enough to reach the level Crosby has and stay there.
"Passion is probably at the top of the list," he said. "You've got to love what you do and even through those hard times you still have to love it. I think the guys who continue to play at an older age are guys who love the game."
Crosby marvels at Penguins center Matt Cullen, 40, and Jagr, who will turn 45 on Feb. 15 and continues to rewrite the NHL record book playing for the Florida Panthers. Crosby isn't sure if he'll be playing when he's 40.
"It's funny, because for the longest time it doesn't even cross your mind," Crosby said. "For whatever reason, the last couple years and even playing with a guy like [Cullen], it crosses my mind and I'm thinking, 'He's 40. I don't know if I could do that.' My contract is until I'm 37, so that's where I see myself playing until, and then we'll see from there. You see where your body is and how everything goes.
"But 37 is pretty good. There's not a lot of guys playing at that age these days."
LNH.com senior managing editor Arpon Basu contributed to this story