By Josh Yohe
Published: Monday, Dec. 30, 2013, 10:21 p.m.
NEWARK — Sidney Crosby has scored more goals and produced more points halfway through previous seasons.
But he never has been this reliably great.
“Especially with Geno having been out a lot lately,” center Brandon Sutter said, referring to Evgeni Malkin's absence. “There's so much pressure on him every night, and obviously teams are completely zoning in on him. But he just keeps producing.”
Consider what Crosby has played without for much of the season:
• He has played the past two games, and will play the rest of the regular season, without right wing Pascal Dupuis.
• He has played 20 games without power-play weapon James Neal.
• His fellow superstar, Malkin, has missed nine games with multiple injuries.
• He has played without puck-moving defensemen Kris Letang and Paul Martin for large chunks of the season.
With nearly half of the Penguins' lineup hurt at some point, Crosby has been the opposition's focal point more than ever.
Yet, he's scoring at the most consistent level of his career, tallying points in 33 of his team's first 41 games.
Crosby's December has been particularly consistent. Playing most of the month without Malkin, he has registered a point in 12 of 13 games. He has notched nine goals and 22 points this month.
His game never was known for dramatic fluctuations, but now, indifferent periods that were occasional a few years ago are almost undetectable.
“It's hard to remember that far back now,” Crosby said. “You get to know teams and players better through the years. You learn what's important. It's a little easier when you put your energy toward what is important.”
Producing points on a daily basis is what is important to Crosby, and he's doing so impressively. His 58 points are five clear of Chicago's Patrick Kane for the NHL lead, and his 116-point pace would be the second best of his career, despite scoring in the NHL being down half a goal per game compared to when he won the Art Ross Trophy with 120 points in 2007.
“I think he's been great,” left wing Chris Kunitz said. “Nothing bothers him, whether there are people out of the lineup or teams are going out of their way to stop him. He just wants to be the best and wants to get better every night.”
It could be argued Crosby never has dealt with more responsibility in his career than right now. Aside from being the team captain, he has seen additional penalty killing responsibility and his minutes increase.
“And he's always seeing top defensive pairings, especially right now,” Kunitz said. “Our team relies on him to score the points, win the faceoffs in every zone. All the while, teams are focused on trying to stop him. It takes a special kind of talent to do what he's doing right now.”
Crosby maintains that scoring in the NHL is harder than ever. Statistics confirm this, as scoring is lower this season than during any of Crosby's nine in the NHL.
“It's as tough as it's ever been with the way teams are playing defense,” Crosby said. “You just have to find a way to be up for every game mentally.”
So far, so good.
Josh Yohe is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @JoshYohe_Trib.
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