Penguins captain Sidney Crosby scores Pittsburgh's first goal Saturday as he gets away from Blues center Jori Lehtera. (St. Louis Blues photo)
With 997 to his credit, Sidney Crosby needs only three more points to become a member of the NHL's exclusive 1,000-point club.
It could happen as soon as Tuesday night, when the Penguins host the Calgary Flames at PPG Paints Arena.
It's a nice, round number.
It shows a combination of excellence and longevity that only 85 other players in league history have managed.
It reminds Crosby of all the teammates over the years who have helped him reach the milestone, and those are pleasant memories for the 29-year-old two-time Stanley Cup champion.
But here's the best part about the 1,000-point plateau for Crosby.
It's not 572 points.
That's how many he had as of Jan. 5, 2011, when a hit from Tampa Bay defenseman Victor Hedman gave Crosby his second concussion in four days. He had to sit out the next 10-plus months.
For great players, the march to 1,000 points has an air of inevitability to it. Put on a pair of skates and produce points at a rate close to their career average, and they'll hit it soon enough.
For Crosby, though, it's a reminder that putting on a pair of skates — being medically able to play the game he loves — is never something to be taken for granted.
“A lot of different things go through your head as far as playing again, getting to the level that you think you can get to if it does happen that you can get back,” Crosby said Monday. “There's a lot of time sitting around waiting. It's hard for that not to cross your mind.”
Crosby's long-time teammate Marc-Andre Fleury can't relate to recording 1,000 career points. He's a goalie. He has 14. But when he reflects on the fact he's been able to be around Crosby on a daily basis for 12 years, not just the five before his concussion problems started, he can't help but smile wide.
“I'm real proud of him for being where's at,” Fleury said, nodding. “He's had to battle through a lot of stuff in his career. He still did it very fast. I see him every day, so I can't say I'm surprised. I'm just happy for him. He deserves it.”
Beyond the uncertainty of an athlete's health, there's one other factor that makes the milestone particularly significant for Crosby.
With 752 games played, he's on track to become the 12th-fastest player in league history to hit 1,000.
The vast majority of players who did it faster played in an era — from the late 1970s through the early 1990s — when there was an average of seven or eight goals per NHL game. These days, it's closer to five and a half.
Crosby is amassing all-time great numbers at a time when scoring is at an all-time low.
“The way the goaltending position has evolved, the way, with technology, that coaching staffs prepare their teams as far as team concepts and team defense, by nature of all those factors, it's certainly harder to score goals,” coach Mike Sullivan said.
Crosby is diplomatic about that issue. He won't say he had to work harder to approach 1,000 than his predecessors did.
He points out players from the NHL's offensive golden years didn't have the advancements in off-ice training and stick technology that he enjoys today.
“I'm a hockey player, but I love the game, too,” Crosby said. “I have a lot of respect for what those guys accomplished. A thousand points, no matter what era, is pretty good.”
That's a point on which everyone can agree. Rookie Carter Rowney knows how hard it was for him to record his first NHL point, which came Saturday night in St. Louis.
For the average NHL player, 1,000 points is a mind-blowing figure.
“I'm working on getting 1,000 minutes in this league,” Rowney joked. “His skill is unbelievable, and you see how hard he works to be able to put himself in those situations. The little things he does in practice and in games is what gives you that wow factor.”