PITTSBURGH -- Pittsburgh Penguins captain Sidney Crosby has elevated his game to a level not seen in some time.
After scoring two goals and eight points in his first 18 games, the worst start to a season in his career, Crosby arguably has played his best hockey since 2010, when he scored 66 points and 32 goals in 41 games before a concussion cut his season short.
Entering the Penguins' game Wednesday against the New York Rangers at Consol Energy Center (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN), Crosby is on a career-high streak of seven consecutive games with at least one goal, scoring 10 goals in that stretch. He has 22 points in his current 11-game scoring streak, and is on a career-high streak of nine consecutive home games with at least one goal, scoring 14 total.
Crosby's home scoring streak is the NHL's longest since Mario Lemieux scored in 11 straight in 1995-96, the longest such streak in Penguins history.
"I think his game is at another level," coach Mike Sullivan said. "And it's consistent. It's not just sporadic. He's hard to handle. Most teams don't have an answer for him when he's playing with the passion and the determination that he plays with.
"I think Sid has the ability to play the game a number of different ways. He's dangerous with his skill game. He's strong in the battle areas. He's so hard to handle in front of the net. His game's at another level right now and he's obviously been a big reason why we've been able to continue to gain some traction in the standings."
The numbers are impressive, but they impact they've had on Pittsburgh's Stanley Cup Playoff hopes have been huge. The Penguins have vaulted back into the playoff picture, having won six of their past seven games. They are battling with the New York Islanders for third place in the Metropolitan Division and four points behind the Rangers for second.
"I'd like to think that the last little while, we've completed our game," Crosby said. "We need to make sure that that's the team that shows up against [the Rangers]. It's going to be a challenge. They have a lot of depth and they've been playing some good hockey too."
Video: ANA@PIT: Crosby scores a pair of breakaway goals
Crosby has fueled the surge by factoring in on 14 of the Penguins' past 21 goals dating back to Jan. 23. With Crosby's production rising and center Evgeni Malkin's remaining steady, the Penguins have earned at least one point in 16 of their past 20 games.
"It's fun. It's always fun when you win," Crosby said. "When you look at the standings, you're not gaining a ton of ground. Everybody's still right in the mix. It's good to be rewarded, but at the same time, we know that we just have to keep playing the same way. But it's always better to win, that's for sure."
Pittsburgh's ability to play the same way took a sizable hit, however, when Malkin, who has a lower-body injury, did not travel to Florida for a set of games against the Tampa Bay Lightning and Florida Panthers last weekend. Malkin is expected to be out for another week. Pittsburgh struggled in a 6-3 loss against the Lightning without Malkin, who led the Penguins with 49 points and 23 goals at the time, even though Crosby scored his 21st goal.
The Penguins rebounded the following night against the Atlantic-Division leading Panthers for a 3-2 overtime win spurred by Crosby's three points. Malkin missed a third game when Pittsburgh faced the Anaheim Ducks on Monday, but Crosby had his second four-point game in the span of a week, the last coming against the Ottawa Senators on Feb. 2 when he scored his first hat trick in more than two years, to help the Penguins to a 6-2 win.
Without Malkin, Pittsburgh's unquestionable leader throughout the first half of the season, the Penguins have survived due in large part to Crosby's resurgence, which began in December, when he scored 11 points in 13 games. He carried that momentum into January, scoring two points in each of Pittsburgh's first two games of 2016 before failing to score in the following two.
On Monday, with the Penguins leading 4-2 early in the third, forward Chris Kunitz shuffled a pass to Crosby, who blew by Ducks defenseman Cam Fowler at center ice. On Crosby's second breakaway of the game, Fowler hooked him once, lost Crosby then hooked him again. Fowler's second hook dragged Crosby to the ice, but a snap shot soared through goalie John Gibson 3:35 into the third with Crosby tumbling into the boards.
After the game, several Ducks complimented Crosby.
"There's, I'd say, maybe two or three guys in the League that make that play and he's one of them," Fowler said.
"I've seen him for 10 years and when he's on, he's on," Anaheim coach Bruce Boudreau said.
"He's the best player in the world for a reason," Ducks captain Ryan Getzlaf said.
The Penguins have benefited from Crosby's reemergence, with his linemates particularly welcoming his elevated play. Right wing Patric Hornqvist has scored 17 points in his past 16 games. Kunitz has scored 12 points and five goals, including the opening goal against Anaheim on Monday, in his past nine games.
Kunitz said when Crosby is clicking, it gives confidence to those around him.
"This year, he's brought it to a whole another level. That's why we've been winning these last games," Kunitz said. "Him, and [Malkin] and [defenseman Kris Letang], have brought it a whole new level that we needed at this point, when we have so many guys out. It's nice to see. It gives us confidence on the ice every time he's got the puck and it gives us that good feeling that we're going to have something be accomplished out there and get points. It's fun playing hockey with confidence."
Even more fun playing with Crosby.