Count­ing down

Crosby in full flight as en­try to 1,000-point club looms

Cape Breton Post - - SPORTS - BY WILL GRAVES

Five years ago, Sid­ney Crosby spent a win­ter work­ing out in soli­tude won­der­ing when the pain in his neck would ease and the in­ter­mit­tent fog in his head would lift. The lin­ger­ing ef­fects of a con­cus­sion in the 2011 Win­ter Clas­sic left the Pitts­burgh Pen­guins cap­tain’s once bright fu­ture un­cer­tain at best.

For the first time in his life, the preter­nat­u­ral vision that helped make Crosby a star couldn’t see the next move.

Reach­ing a thou­sand points? Heck, Crosby would have set­tled for the chance to score just once more.

“A lot of things go through your head as far as play­ing again, get­ting to the level you think you can get to,” the twotime MVP said. “A lot of sit­ting time around kind of wait­ing. It’s hard for that to not kind of cross your mind.”

No longer. Not with Crosby healthy and at the height of his pow­ers for the de­fend­ing Stan­ley Cup cham­pi­ons. En­ter­ing Tues­day night’s play, Crosby’s 30 goals lead the league and his 59 points are se­cond only to Ed­mon­ton’s Con­nor McDavid, who is now where Crosby was a decade ago: at the fore­front of the next wave of su­per­stars.

The 29-year-old Crosby re­mem­bers those giddy early days. Yet he doesn’t hold them as close as the ones that left him won­der­ing if he would ever get back on the ice with his team­mates, let alone re­turn to the form that made him the torch­bearer for an en­tire or­ga­ni­za­tion as a teenager.

So when­ever Crosby be­comes the 86th mem­ber of the NHL’s 1,000-point club — he had 997 head­ing into a visit by Cal­gary on Tues­day night — he’ll make sure the puck ends up in his fa­ther Troy’s hands for safe­keep­ing. And with it comes an ap­pre­ci­a­tion that Crosby ad­mits he didn’t al­ways have for his own tal­ent and the his­toric com­pany he keeps.

“I don’t feel old but I feel like there are times maybe when you’re younger it’s kind of an ex­ten­sion of ju­nior hockey where you’re used to get­ting cer­tain mile­stones and it seems to come easy,” Crosby said. “I think you look at it dif­fer­ently as you get older. It’s just some­thing you try to en­joy a lit­tle bit more.”

In a way, Crosby has come al­most full cir­cle. On Mon­day, Crosby and the rest of the Pen­guins prac­ticed in the throw­back yel­low hel­mets the team will wear dur­ing a Sta­dium Se­ries game at Heinz Field against Philadel­phia later this month. The game will mark the team’s first visit to the home of the NFL’s Steel­ers since Jan. 1, 2011.

Crosby skated onto the ice that rainy night as the league’s lead­ing scorer and over­whelm­ing fron­trun­ner for a se­cond Hart Tro­phy. He left it with his ca­reer at a cross­roads fol­low­ing a blind­side hit by Wash­ing­ton’s David Steckel. Crosby didn’t play again that sea­son and just 22 games the next.

In Min­nesota at the time, vet­eran for­ward Matt Cullen watched Crosby from afar and feared the worst.

“It’s a re­ally tough thing to go through,” said Cullen, who dealt with his own con­cus­sion is­sues be­fore join­ing the Pen­guins in 2015. “You worry: Do you come out of it? Do you play with the same ag­gres­sion? He plays with a kind of reck­less aban­don. You know how good he is for the game and how fun it is to watch him. It’s just such a frus­trat­ing in­jury.”

One that fi­nally seems to be in the rearview mir­ror.

The proof came in Oc­to­ber, when Crosby was di­ag­nosed with a con­cus­sion com­ing off his elec­tric per­for­mance in the World Cup, where he led Team Canada to a gold medal. The news made the league flinch, but Crosby missed just six games and re­turned with an added di­men­sion to his game: sniper. He’s on pace to challenge the per­sonal-best 51 goals he put up in 2009-10 and he’s done it with line com­bi­na­tions that seem to change de­pend­ing on coach Mike Sul­li­van’s mood.

Dur­ing one stretch, he’s with young speed­sters Conor Sheary and Bryan Rust, an­other he’s with bowl­ing balls Pa­tric Horn­qvist and Chris Ku­nitz.

“Re­gard­less of who we play him with, I think he has the abil­ity to adapt his game to make his line ef­fec­tive,” Sul­li­van said. “It’s one more as­pect of Sid’s over­all game that makes him as good as he is and as elite a player as he is.”

AP PHOTO

Pitts­burgh Pen­guins’ Sid­ney Crosby warms up be­fore the team’s NHL game against the Cal­gary Flames in Pitts­burgh on Tues­day. En­ter­ing the game, Crosby was three points away from 1,000 for his ca­reer.

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