Oct 12, 2013; Tampa, FL, USA; Pittsburgh Penguins center Sidney Crosby (87) during the game agains the Tampa Bay Lightning at Tampa Bay Times Forum. Mandatory Credit: David Manning-USA TODAY Sports

Pittsburgh Penguins: Conditions ideal for Sidney Crosby to have career year

Through the first six games of this regular season, Pittsburgh Penguins star center Sidney Crosby has accumulated 12 points (5g, 7a), putting him three ahead of Washington’s Alex Ovechkin for the early league lead.

Crosby, 26, racked up three assists in Tuesday night’s 3-2 win over Edmonton at Consol Energy Center, with only a diving block by Taylor Hall preventing No. 87 from adding an empty-net goal in the waning moments. While Sid will probably not be able to maintain a two-points-per-game pace for six months in the modern NHL, it’s clear this season is his best chance yet to secure his second scoring title.

Consider how the planets are aligning for Crosby. He’s in the prime of his career – most hockey players are at peak productivity in their mid-to-late 20s – and he has all the complementary pieces around him to insure his talents won’t go to waste. Not only does he play with two wingers in Chris Kunitz and Pascal Dupuis who truly understand his linear style of play, Crosby also gets major opportunities as part of a power play that, when healthy, features fellow elite pivot Evgeni Malkin, sniper James Neal and explosive point man Kris Letang.

Speaking of health, Crosby has patiently put his recent head and neck injuries in the rearview mirror and is in as good of physical condition as could be expected in time for a full 82-game season. The last time he played more than 41 matches in a year was 2009-10, when he scored a league-leading 51 goals and finished second in scoring with 109 points.

Crosby’s prolific start to this season is reminiscent of his pace in 2010-11, when he posted 32 goals and 34 assists in 41 games before suffering his infamous concussion in the Winter Classic at Heinz Field. He didn’t get back on the ice until almost 11 months later, but the Crosby we saw prior to that extended absence was a transcendent athlete at the top of his game.

It’s quite early, but we could easily look back and remember 2013-14 as the season Crosby redefined what was possible in what has become a defense-first league. Crosby achieved his scoring apex in his second NHL season, when he recorded 120 points in 2006-07 for his only Art Ross Trophy.

His former landlord and current owner Mario Lemieux netted an amazing 161 points in 1995-96 at the age of 30, and while Crosby would have to break a serious sweat to threaten that mark, he’s got as good of a chance as anyone to be the first NHLer to reach 140 points since Jaromir Jagr got there 18 years ago.

There’s one more factor in Crosby’s favor: enhanced restrictions on goalie pads. The league has cracked down on enforcing the pad parameters already in the rulebook, and scoring is slightly up as a result. That extra edge may be all Crosby needs to reach heights unseen since the “dead puck” era arrived in the late 1990s.

Tags: Pittsburgh Penguins Sidney Crosby

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