The Penguins' Sidney Crosby beats Devils goaltender Cory Schneider for a first-period power-play goal Tuesday, Jan. 26, 2016, at Consol Energy Center.
Sidney Crosby's place in the scoring race isn't the Penguins' most pressing issue, obviously.
Winning hockey games is the objective, and the Penguins won a big one Tuesday, defeating Ray Shero's New Jersey Devils, 2-0, to move into eighth place in the East going into the All-Star break.
Crosby's continued ascent, however, is more than a fascinating sidebar. It's a necessity if the Penguins are going to reach the playoffs.
He's hot. They're hot. That is not a coincidence.
Crosby has 11 goals and 19 points in 15 games since the club started 0-4 under Mike Sullivan. The team is 9-3-4 in that span (Crosby missed a game).
“We're definitely rolling,” Crosby said after scoring the winning goal.
A player that looked uninspired early in the season suddenly is on fire.
How much does the new coach have to do with that?
Sullivan gave all the credit to Crosby.
“He's playing inspiring hockey,” Sullivan said. “I think he's playing with passion, he's playing hard, he's playing in the battle areas. When he plays at his best, he plays with emotion. I think you can see it in his game, can see it on the bench, his interaction with players. He's emotionally invested in the game.
“He deserves the credit for the type of consistent play that he's been providing.”
At various points this season, you needed MapQuest to find Sid's place among NHL scorers. I believe he was 96th at one juncture. By season's end, I'm betting, you'll only need one hand to count the people ahead of him. Maybe only a couple of fingers.
With 40 points, Crosby already was back in the top 25 going into Tuesday's game — six points out of the top 10 and eight out of the top 5.
Crosby has 34 games left, presuming good health. If he continues to score at slightly more than a point per game — his pace under Sullivan — he'll finish at around 80.
If he explodes, who knows? Ninety is not out of the question. And to think, he was on pace for 56 points when Mike Johnston got fired.
It'll be a huge upset if Patrick Kane doesn't win the scoring title. He entered play Tuesday with 72 points, 15 ahead of second-place Jamie Benn. After that, anybody, including Benn, could be in Crosby's crosshairs by the time April rolls around.
What a joy it is to see the jump back in Crosby's game. He looks dangerous on nearly every shift, whereas one could go an entire game in November and barely notice him. His shot totals are up. He had the X-ray vision going Tuesday and could have had three or four points easily if teammates had converted incredible chances.
Most notably, Crosby is all over the place on the power play, doing some of his best work down low. That is where he can torture penalty killers by working behind them and darting in and out wherever he pleases to make quick reaction plays. He flew in from the right half-boards to make one of those plays at 15:27 of the first period, giving the Penguins a precious 1-0 lead.
Why precious? Because when New Jersey scores first, games shut down. The Devils are 17-0-3 when they score first.
Crosby made that stat moot when he jumped on a Kris Letang rebound that kicked out to goalie Cory Schneider's left. Sid corralled the puck on his backhand, quickly went forehand and fired it home as he was falling to the ice. That gave him eight goals this month, tied for the NHL lead.
“I had some time there,” Crosby said. “We had a lot of traffic in front. Just had to make sure I put it in.”