Goals, and hat tricks, have been plentiful for Penguins superstar Sidney Crosby this season. n: PITTSBURGH - NOVEMBER 27: Sidney Crosby #87 of the Pittsburgh Penguins reacts after scoring the first hat trick at the Consol Energy Center against the Calgary Flames on November 27, 2010 at Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/NHLI via Getty Images)
Is there any doubt 'The Kid' is the best player in the world? If there was before this season began, there shouldn’t be anymore.
We’ve been hearing the Sidney Crosby-Alex Ovechkin debate for five years and it’s always gone the same way: Ovie is more dominant and wins a lot of individual accolades, but Sid has some of his own along with a Cup, another final appearance and a gold medal. It wasn’t so much a Nos. 1 and 2 scenario as much as it was Nos. 1 and 1A.
In his third season Steven Stamkos has emerged to create a triumvirate at the top. Not since Eric Lindros in the mid-1990s has anyone scored at the prodigious rates of Stamkos, Ovie and Sid so early in their careers. And since mid-February, no one has scored more goals than Stamkos.
Friday morning, some of us here at The Hockey News were debating the merits of the three. There was hardly a consensus as to who’s No. 1, but there was little question as to whether anyone else is in the running. No goalies were raised, no defensemen mentioned. It was Crosby, Ovechkin and Stamkos. That’s it.
Ovie is third in league scoring and on pace for about 30 goals, 20-plus fewer than his career average. Maybe he’s snake-bitten, but it also looks like he’ll set a career high in assists, so maybe it’s a concerted effort to make those around him better. After all, the Capitals are sitting pretty in first overall, still scoring a lot and they’ve cut way down on their goals against.
A recent issue of THN magazine featured a cover story on Stamkos with the sell line “The NHL’s New Best Player.” It wasn't meant as a declaration of his status as No. 1, but rather that he's joined the debate. The 20-year-old has slowed some since that was written, but 65 goals and 120 to 130 points is still an outstanding pace. He’s still as dangerous as they come.
But he’s no Sid and, in my humble opinion, neither is Ovechkin.
Crosby has certainly been on fire since that Stamkos cover. November’s player of the month overtook the Lightning sniper for the scoring lead and has matched him in goals, after posting two hat tricks in three games last week. It seems every year he targets an aspect of his game and takes it to another level. It was his backhand one year, faceoffs another, defensive play and fitness after that, goal-scoring last year and he’s become as dogged a puck-pursuer as any in the league.
But what seals Crosby’s status for me is the guys he plays with. Take a look at the league’s scoring leaders. Stamkos partners with Martin St-Louis; Ovie plays with Alexander Semin and Nicklas Backstrom; the Sedins have been with each other for 25 years; Patrick Sharp has (at least until last week) Marian Hossa; Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf skate alongside one another.
No offense to any of the other Pens wingers who regularly play with Crosby, but none compare to the running mates other top scorers have. And, yes, I know Evgeni Malkin is there, but he and Crosby rarely play together 5-on-5 and until that changes, No. 87 will basically be skating with third-liners. Yet he still leads the league in even-strength points by a wide margin.
Crosby has no sniper to pass to, but went into the weekend No. 2 in assists. He has no deft passer to get him the puck, but was No. 1 in goals and he led his team in scoring by 20 points; Stamkos and Eric Staal tie for second in that category, nine points ahead of their nearest teammate.
And let’s not forget, the Pens are pretty darn good, too. So it’s not like Crosby is floating around at the red line, waiting for long-bomb passes to pad his stats - not by a mile.
He is just, simply, the best, most complete player in the world. Bar none.
For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.