PITTSBURGH -- Sidney Crosby is used to having the eyes of the hockey world upon him.
Already in his young career, Crosby has been the first pick of an Entry Draft, a franchise savior, claimed a Stanley Cup and won Olympic gold -- scoring the medal-clinching goal in overtime against the U.S. this past February. He understands that such heroics will draw the interest of even the most casual hockey fan.
But even the usually unflappable Crosby has been slightly unnerved about the attention he has attracted in the past few weeks.
"Especially the last week or two, I feel like there's been a little more attention to it," he said earlier this week in a conference call.
Most of that attention comes because Crosby has been by far the best player in the League this season. He has 65 points, 13 more than his nearest competitor. He already has 32 goals, in just 38 games. And, most importantly, he has a point in 25 straight games, extending that streak Tuesday with a 2-goal, 2-assist showing at home against the Atlanta Thrashers.
It was such a dominating performance that Ondrej Pavelec, the Atlanta goalie on the receiving end of Crosby's most recent outburst of brilliance, could only tip his goalie mask to Sid the Kid.
"I don't need to say any secrets -- he's the best and you have to play your best game against him and we took the day off," Pavelec told NHL.com after making 30 saves. "We have to be ready next time. It's not a secret. He's the best. It is what it is."
On his first goal Tuesday, Crosby was the beneficiary of a nice play at the blue line by Kris Letang, who kept an attempted clear in and made a pass to Crosby in the faceoff circle to the left of Pavelec while Pittsburgh was enjoying a power play.
The second goal, however, was the type of sublime brilliance that has come to be expected of Crosby on a nightly basis. He sprung a move toward the net that freed him to receive a pass from defenseman Alex Goligoski and split the Atlanta defenders before targeting Pavelec's five-hole.
"That was a great play by Kris to keep that in," Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said of the first goal. "We'll take (Crosby) from that range every time."
The opposition, however, doesn't want to see Crosby anywhere near the net as he rides the wave of one of the most impressive scoring streaks in NHL history.
"The second goal was very poorly played on our part; just very poorly played. I would expect that perhaps the defenseman would know that 87 (Crosby) is pretty good," Atlanta coach Craig Ramsay said, mixing admiration for Crosby's skills with despair over his team's mental lapse.
"That feels like it's a whole other world away. It's hard for me to even imagine somebody … watching Wayne Gretzky play every night, and kind of expecting that after 40 games, they expect a 41st, 42nd game. It's incredible to think that he did that over the course of 51 games. I can't even imagine that." --Sidney Crosby, on Wayne Gretzky's record 51-game scoring streak
Crosby will look to run his streak to 26 games Wednesday against the New York Islanders, the Penguins' final game before this weekend's 2011 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic at Heinz Field against the rival Washington Capitals and fellow superstar Alex Ovechkin.
If he isn't held off the board by the Islanders, the attention will mount even more, as Crosby will take the ice against the Capitals looking to run his points mark to 27 games with the eyes of the hockey world focused on his every move as the Winter Classic puts its participants under the hockey microscope on New Year's Day.
Regardless of what happens with Crosby's streak, there is no question he has reached another level this season.
Of those nine players, Nicholls and Sundin are the only ones not already enshrined in the Hockey Hall of Fame.
Yet Crosby's modesty refuses to allow him to get too wrapped up in his accomplishments.
"It's nice when they're going well and the puck is going in," Crosby said after his near hat trick Tuesday. "It's always good to see that. I think you just try to focus on how you're playing even when they're coming and you don't think too much about that. It's nice to have the puck go in like that."
He also knows he will have to continue to get some lucky bounces if he hopes to challenge the ultimate point streak, the 51-game run Gretzky fashioned during the 1983-84 season.
"That feels like it's a whole other world away," Crosby said when asked about Gretzky's benchmark. "It's hard for me to even imagine somebody … watching Wayne Gretzky play every night, and kind of expecting that after 40 games, they expect a 41st, 42nd game. It's incredible to think that he did that over the course of 51 games. I can't even imagine that."
While Crosby has trouble envisioning such a scenario for himself, others are starting to come around to just that vision.