Monday, January 30, 2017
Sidney Crosby Stands Out as the New All-Stars Gather
January 28, 2017
Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin at the 2017 NHL Skills Competition (Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES — Once known as Sid the Kid, Pittsburgh Penguins center Sidney Crosby now takes the ice with a reputation simply as “the man.”
Crosby, 29, continues to shine the brightest in a hockey skyline illuminated by young players like Edmonton’s Connor McDavid, Toronto’s Auston Matthews and Winnipeg’s Patrik Laine, who will be joining Crosby at Sunday’s N.H.L. All-Star Game here.
On Friday night, Crosby, six months after winning his second Stanley Cup with the Penguins, was one of the six active players chosen for the N.H.L.’s 100 greatest players as part of the league’s centennial celebration.
“He’s the best player in the game; he’s earned that mantle,” said the Hall of Famer Wayne Gretzky, who will coach Crosby’s Metropolitan Division team in the All-Star Game. The N.H.L. asked Gretzky to take over as the coach after John Tortorella withdrew from the assignment to care for an ailing family pet.
Gretzky, now an executive with the Edmonton Oilers, said that McDavid, 20, was chasing Crosby for that title.
“Until somebody knocks him off the castle, that’s the way it’s going to be,” Gretzky said of Crosby. “He won two Stanley Cups and two gold medals, and he’s handled pressure and handled everything with grace and dignity, and he deserves all the accolades he’s getting.”
McDavid — who became a Penguins fan because of Crosby and beamed five years ago when Crosby told reporters that a 15-year-old McDavid reminded him of himself — has moved past fandom to mutual respect
“He’s the best player in the world, and you can learn off of the things he does. But at the end of the day, I think my game is a little bit different,” McDavid said by telephone this month, adding that Crosby played more of a power game while he had to rely on speed and other ways to be effective.
The arrival of stars like McDavid, Matthews, 19, and Laine, 18, seems to have pushed Crosby even harder to improve and reassert himself as the pre-eminent player.
“To get to this level and be at the top of your game, there’s always a ton of motivation,” Crosby said. “It’s good to see young players having success, and I’m sure it’s pushing everyone to be better, too.”
Crosby, the captain of the Metropolitan Division team for the All-Star three-on-three tournament, has not played in an All-Star Game since 2007, his second year in the league. It was the only time he competed in the midseason exhibition — injuries or Olympic participation has prevented him from returning until now.
After missing the first six games of the season because of a concussion, he is second in the league in points, behind McDavid, with 55, and first in goals, with 28, on pace for a career high and his second Maurice Richard Trophy as the league’s top goal scorer. He is doing so with his relatively unknown linemates, Conor Sheary and Bryan Rust.
Crosby leads the league in points per game, and he is fifth on the career list in that category behind Gretzky, Mario Lemieux, Bobby Orr and Mike Bossy.
In addition to his scoring prowess, Crosby saved the Penguins franchise, said Lemieux, the former Penguins star who is now a part owner of the team. The Penguins were in financial peril in the late 1990s, leading Lemieux to defer salary to purchase an ownership stake in the team and keep it in Pittsburgh.
By 2004, the Penguins were last in attendance, but Crosby’s arrival in 2005 revived interest. With Crosby as their captain, they went to the finals in 2008, won the Stanley Cup in 2009 and opened a new arena in 2010.
Lemieux, who retired in 2006, has been Crosby’s teammate, his boss and, early in Crosby’s career, his roommate. Lemieux spoke enthusiastically of Crosby on Friday night.
“Just like Wayne was when he played, he’s the hardest-working guy out there.” Lemieux said. “Whether it’s at practice or a three-on-three game, he wants to win, he wants to be the best.
“I think his skating ability is second to none. His lower-body strength is unbelievable. If he goes one-on-one in the corner, he’s able to come out and make a play. His passing ability is probably the best in the league, and his vision, of course, is also one of the best.”
Crosby has lost a substantial portion of his career to injury, primarily concussions. He has missed more than 200 games, the equivalent of about two and a half seasons. Crosby has remained relatively healthy since 2012.
But he had a tepid start to last season, with just 9 points in his first 18 games. A coaching change and personnel moves rejuvenated him, and his team, offensively. After Mike Sullivan took over behind the bench, Crosby led the league in scoring. That propelled the Penguins into the playoffs, where they captured the Stanley Cup. Crosby earned his first Conn Smythe Trophy as the postseason’s most valuable player.
Sullivan, who has spent over a quarter-century in the N.H.L., said he had never seen a star with Crosby’s strong work habits and drive to be the best. He also praised Crosby’s leadership on the team and his rapport with the coaching staff.
“I think what made him our best player was his complete game,” Sullivan said. “He plays a 200-foot game. He plays away from the puck every bit as hard as he plays with the puck. We rely on him at both ends of the rink.
“He always plays against the other team’s top defense pair and gets the most attention from a checking standpoint. He plays through all of that, game in and game out, series in and series out.”
Among his contemporaries, Crosby will forever be linked with the Washington Capitals’ Alex Ovechkin, who joined him Saturday among the 100 greatest players. Ovechkin reached 1,000 career points earlier this season, but he took 880 games to do so. Crosby is on pace to reach that milestone shortly — in about 125 fewer career games.
“We started together,” Ovechkin said. “My first year in the league was his first year in the league. We both had success. We’re both top-100 players in the league. It’s amazing.”
Teemu Selanne, another prolific scorer who had a record 73 goals as a rookie in 1992-93 and played until age 44, said he was even more impressed with Crosby’s stateliness than with his stardom.
“He wants to be a role model for the younger players and be a spokesperson for the N.H.L.,” Selanne said. “He’s like a new version of Wayne. On the ice, we all know he good he is. He’s having a great year. The league needs guys like Crosby. He’s a pleasure to watch, and very gentlemanly. Hockey’s very lucky to have him.”