A Pittsburgh Penguins fan holds a sign welcoming Sidney Crosby back, during the Penguins' NHL hockey game against the New York Islanders in Pittsburgh on Monday, Nov. 21, 2011. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)
PITTSBURGH, Pa. - After making a spectacular four-point splash in his comeback game, a healthy Sidney Crosby has no plans to lower his goals.
The Penguins captain issued a warning Tuesday to those tempted to dismiss his eye-popping performance in a 5-0 win over the New York Islanders as the byproduct of pent-up emotion, electric atmosphere and inferior opponent.
While the crowd of reporters around him was thinned considerably from 12 hours before, Crosby said he intends to get back to playing like he did last season. Before being sidelined with a concussion, with 32 goals and 66 points in 41 games, Crosby was on pace for the NHL's highest-scoring season since the mid-1990s.
"You look for ways to be motivated," Crosby said. "Sometimes they just kind of happen. For me, after going through this, I want to get back to where I was last season."
He added, "I know it's going to take some time."
Crosby finally appears to have health on his side. He is so convinced his concussion problems are behind him, he has no trips to his doctors currently scheduled.
The bar Crosby set last season was very high, however.
When he left the lineup following hard hits to the head in successive games Jan. 1 and 5, Crosby had just ended a 25-game scoring streak and a December in which he scored 14 goals in 13 games.
"We went into games expecting him to get two goals," Penguins defenceman Brooks Orpik said. "You probably shouldn't expect that but we kind of were. He was playing that well. And it wasn't just offensively, it was his whole game. It was pretty complete at that point. (Monday was) one game, and it's tough to expect four points every night, but hopefully he keeps building on that."
Now that he's back, Crosby also will be driven by the Penguins' unspoken desire to be the NHL's best team.
The talent appears to be there—no team has three centres comparable to Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Jordan Staal, who is becoming as much of an offensive force as he is a shutdown defender. And the blue-line has depth and talent with Orpik, Zbynek Michalek, Paul Martin and Kris Letang.
Consider this: Pittsburgh has played only three games in the last two seasons in which all three of their elite centres were on the ice together. If they can stay healthy, the Penguins, who were atop the Eastern Conference even without Crosby, could be primed for a run at their third Stanley Cup final appearance in six seasons.
"Winning is always the constant motivating force," Crosby said.
Even if, for one night, Crosby's motivation appeared to be proving to the entire league that a serious concussion and a 61-game layoff that stretched over two seasons weren't enough to diminish the skills of hockey's biggest star.
And what about all the speculation that he might challenge for the scoring title, despite the 25-point deficit to Toronto's Phil Kessel that he currently faces?
"It would be great, but I don't think it's possible, so it's not even something that is on my radar, to be honest with you," Crosby said.
The national TV cameras from two countries, the large media contingent, the you-can't-miss-this-one excitement will be missing when the Penguins take on the St. Louis Blues on Wednesday.
Rather than appearing in the game he had waited since January to play, Crosby will participate in just another of the Penguins' remaining 61 contests.
He isn't complaining.
"There's just something about a game day that's just different," Crosby said. "The preparation, the anticipation for the game and all the stuff that comes with it. I those things combined were really fun to be part of again."
The Pens follow the Blues with a game Friday at home to Ottawa before heading to Montreal on Saturday.