The questions kept coming throughout the first month of the season.
What’s wrong with Sidney Crosby? Why isn’t he scoring? Is he on the downside of his career?
There was merit to the questions. The Pens captain was held scoreless in eight of the first nine games of the season. He had only two goals in his first 18 contests.
Of course, Crosby handled the questions with aplomb and patience. He smiled, nodded and answered them.
Crosby never avoided the tough questions. Crosby also never lost his confidence.
It’s amazing how quickly things can change.
Just take a look at what Crosby has done since Dec. 30...
*Active eight-game scoring streak (8G-6A-14PTS) and points in 12 of his last 14 games (21 points).
*Scored the Pens’ game-winning goal in three straight games. If he hits four straight on Friday night in Tampa Bay he will tie an NHL record (the last player to do it was Daniel Alfredsson in January, 2007).
*Goals in 10 of his last 16 games (14 total), including a natural hat trick Tuesday night in a 6-5 win against the Ottawa Senators.
*Active career-long eight-game home goal-scoring streak (12 total).
*Two points shy of posting his 900th career NHL point. He’s played in 675 games. If he were to post two points sometime in the next two games, he would become the 10th-fastest player in NHL history to hit the mark – besting Marcel Dionne, 678, and Jaromir Jagr, 681).
*Posted 21 points (13G-8A) in 14 games. Only current NHL scoring leader Patrick Kane of Chicago has equaled that total (8G-13A). But Kane posted his 21 points in 16 games, two more than Crosby.
*Most importantly, Crosby has helped the Pens climb from 12th place in the standings into a playoff position.
A lot of players would love to have that type of “downside” to their career.
Needless to say, the rumors of his demise were greatly exaggerated.
Oh, and don’t look now, but Crosby has quietly climbed to 14th place in the NHL’s scoring race with 45 points (20G-25A). He’s a mere six points shy of being in the top-5 in the league.
Not too bad for a non-NHL All-Star.
As usual, when asked about his personal tear the captain directed the credit to his teammates.
“As a group we’ve done a good job of generating a lot more shots and scoring chances,” Crosby said. “When you’re doing that you give yourself a better chance to score consistently. I think that’s been a big key.
“As a team we’re playing really well. I think everyone individually benefits from that.”
While his teammates certainly play a role in his success, Crosby has done his part by finishing plays – evidenced by his recent run of goal scoring.
“You gain confidence when you see (the puck) going in,” Crosby said. “If anything you try to shoot more and take advantage of that. You have that mentality of shooting every opening that you get you don’t pass it up, you take a shot. When you’re shooting the puck a lot of good things happen.”
Crosby’s talents and accomplishments don’t need to be repeated. Throughout his career he has compiled endless awards and accolades from NHL trophies, Olympic gold medals and, the most important, championships.
New head coach Mike Sullivan, who has been on the job since Dec. 12 has had an up close look at Crosby. And his takeaway is that Crosby sets himself up for success.
“He’s not as good as he is by accident,” Sullivan said. “I really admire how hard he works, and how much pride he takes in his preparation. I think it’s great for our team. When he works as hard as he does it holds the rest of our group to a high standard.
“That’s the biggest thing for me and what’s most impressive about him, his preparation process. He is just a diligent guy. He controls everything that he can to be successful. I think that gives him a chance to be as good as he is.”
Not surprisingly, the media is no longer talking about why Sidney Crosby isn’t scoring or if he’s on the downside of his career. If Crosby maintains his current pace, there will only be one question left to ask at the end of the year.
“’Sid,’ how does it feel winning your third NHL scoring title?”
Expect Crosby to smile, nod and give the credit to his teammates.