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Crosby restoring hope for hockey

Dan Di Sciullo, NHL Editor

Dan Di Sciullo Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - Here's a suggestion for critics of hockey; instead of complaining about the problem of violence in the sport just sit down on the couch and actually watch Sidney Crosby play a game.

How many times do we need to see the image of Chris Simon whacking Ryan Hollweg in the face with his stick or watch as Todd Fedoruk gets carried off the ice on a stretcher after getting knocked out in a fight?

That's not to say that those incidents aren't important, but there are also amazing things happening in hockey and a great deal of them come from the stick of a certain 19-year-old scoring machine from Nova Scotia.

To be fair, when the sports news channels do find the time to report on hockey and there isn't a scandal to talk about, they are likely to mention Crosby before all other players. And with good reason because the future of the Penguins franchise is lighting up the scoreboard and making his team a force to be reckoned with in the Eastern Conference.

Crosby was a no-brainer as the No. 1 overall pick in the 2005 draft and showed during his rookie campaign that he certainly didn't lack individual ability. However, Crosby's 102 points in 2005-06 seemed to do little to help Pittsburgh as a team considering the club finished last in the Eastern Conference.

Sidney Crosby
Sidney Crosby was a no-brainer as the No. 1 overall pick in the 2005 draft and showed during his rookie campaign that he certainly didn't lack individual ability.
However, the only thing that has been the same for the Penguins this year is the ease at which Crosby can fill up a scoresheet. Since the end of last season, Pittsburgh has done an excellent job of surrounding its young star with a mix of solid veterans and blossoming talent and it has made all the difference.

The Penguins have clinched a spot in the playoffs for the first time since 2001 and are still in the mix for the Atlantic Division crown and one of the top-three seeds in the Eastern Conference playoffs. Pittsburgh has also eclipsed the 100-point barrier for the first time since the 1995-96 campaign and should finish with the second-best point total in club history.

It was clear from the start of this season that Pittsburgh was vastly improved from its dismal 2005-06 edition, but Crosby and the Penguins didn't really begin to make a statement until after New Year's.

Since the middle of January, the Pens have been the best team in the NHL, going 27-6-4 in their last 37 games and sending the message to the rest of the league that this is not simply a team of the future, but one that can also wreak havoc in the here and now.

The sheer length of Pittsburgh's hot streak makes it seem unlikely that this team will simply falter in the playoffs. That being said, we have yet to see Crosby even skate in the playoffs so it would also be presumptuous to make the Penguins the favorite in the East.

Something tells me Crosby is going to be just fine once the postseason begins. Maybe that's because point production seems to be Sid the Kid's "raison d'etre", something that is bolstered by the fact that he has totaled 219 points in the first 157 games of his career.

As the calendar turns to April, Crosby is well on his way to becoming the youngest player to win a scoring title in NHL history. As of March 31, he leads the league with 117 points and holds a double-digit lead over his nearest competition.

The simple fact that Crosby is doing things as a 19-year-old that even Wayne Gretzky was never able to do is simply astounding. For instance, becoming the youngest player in NHL history to reach 200 career points although Gretzky, Penguins owner Mario Lemieux and Peter Stastny all reached the 200-point mark in fewer games. Crosby is also the youngest ever to record consecutive 100- point seasons in the NHL.

With the Art Ross nearly in his grasp and possibly a Hart Trophy as this year's league MVP to come, Crosby will have to look to the postseason for his next accomplishments. That playoff success may or may not come this year, but it's hard to imagine a scenario that doesn't have Crosby hoisting Lord Stanley's Cup at some time in the future.

Sure, there are plenty of thugs in the NHL that damage the sport with their violent antics, but are those incidents so prevalent that we should forget how great hockey can be when someone as skilled as Crosby takes the ice? I think not.

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Dan Di Sciullo
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