Commentary

Is this Crosby's best play yet?

Updated: December 2, 2010, 3:26 AM ET
By Scott Burnside | ESPN.com

As we consider the player named Sidney Crosby as he tears into the second quarter of the NHL season, we wonder aloud what it was like to cover Albert Einstein or Leonardo da Vinci or Thomas Edison in their prime.

Did reporters write that Einstein's big brain was working overtime?

Did they write that da Vinci was painting like an artist using two brushes?

Did they write that Edison was inventing like a demon?

Were there moments within the accepted framework of greatness that demanded further boundaries be established to adequately consider such greatness? Were there times when plain old "great" just didn't cut it?

Former NHLer Bob Errey has watched every Crosby game as a broadcast analyst for the Penguins and understands the dilemma we face in framing where Crosby is at right now.

"This is as good as he's played," Errey told ESPN.com this week.

Think about that for a moment. Crosby has won a scoring title, a Hart Trophy as league MVP, an Olympic gold medal and a Stanley Cup. And what we're seeing now is somehow Crosby at his best.

Ask Crosby about all this and he does his best to answer. But sometimes if you are the forest, it's hard to see the trees. Or something like that. What Crosby does say is it's every player's responsibility to look after his own business at both ends of the ice, and he takes that responsibility seriously.

Crosby I know what my strengths are and I know what my weaknesses are. I don't worry about that other stuff. I know I'm not going to wake up and have a laser like Ovechkin or Stamkos.

-- Sidney Crosby on the NHL's "great" debate

"The challenge," he told us in a phone interview, "is to do that every night and be consistent with it."

Want consistent? The Penguins' captain has recorded a point in 13 straight games. He has scored 12 times and added 14 assists over that span. Heading into Wednesday's games, he also assumed the NHL points lead from newest rival Steven Stamkos of the Tampa Bay Lightning. He is second in goals (18), trailing Stamkos by three in the race for the goal-scoring lead after the two tied for the league lead last season with 51.

Errey has seen an evolution from last season, when Crosby was focused on producing more goals and, as a result, was shooting more. Now, having essentially mastered the art of shooting, Crosby does not need to use that option unless it is the best option available. In contrast, Errey thinks perhaps Crosby's sometimes linemate Evgeni Malkin is over-shooting, trying to shoot too often to make up for a slow start offensively.

The ease within Crosby's game has extended to linemates Chris Kunitz and Pascal Dupuis, both of whom seem to have embraced playing with Crosby rather than perhaps working too hard to fit in to be the perfect winger.

Crosby is a center, so faceoffs are among his responsibilities. Only Chicago star Jonathan Toews (349) has won more faceoffs than Crosby (345). The next most proficient faceoff man is Paul Stastny and he has won 82 fewer draws. Beyond faceoffs, Crosby said he also feels he's winning more battles for loose pucks and helping to create more plays.

"If anything, I feel I'm just more involved," Crosby said. "I feel like I'm involved a lot."

Penguins GM Ray Shero sees Crosby playing a more dominant role at the other end of the ice in the Penguins' zone, coming up with loose pucks, winning key faceoffs and making smart plays to spark a Penguins attack far away from the opposing goal.

No other NHL forward plays as much as Crosby, who averages 22:09 a night in ice time. And while Crosby's points have helped, the Penguins are not a one-trick pony. As of Wednesday, they ranked fourth in the league in both goals allowed per game and shots allowed per game.

[+] EnlargeSidney Crosby
AP Photo/Gene J. PuskarHeading into Wednesday's games, Sidney Crosby leads the NHL with 41 points.

"He battles. He wins faceoffs. He makes the right play. I think he takes a lot of pride in his two-way game," Shero said in a recent interview. "There's just so much more to his game right now than scoring points. Even if he doesn't score, he's going to help us anyway."

Crosby is a detail guy, so talking detail is good. Trying to assess his current level of greatness against, well, other periods of greatness is a little more awkward. "I don't know. It's always kind of hard to evaluate things like that," he said.

The idea of whether he is the best player in the NHL right now isn't something Crosby spends a lot of time ruminating over, even if we in the media love the debate.

"I think you leave that opinion to others. That's not what drives you," Crosby said.

For a long time this conversation centered around Crosby and Alex Ovechkin. Within the past year, Toews has edged onto the periphery of such talk. Last season, Vancouver's Henrik Sedin won the Hart Trophy after leading the league in scoring, while Ovechkin won the Lester Pearson, even though Crosby could have easily walked away with either honor.

This season, it's Stamkos and Crosby dominating the "good, better, best" discussion.

"You look at all those guys you mentioned and they're all different players," Crosby said. "I don't think that's something that affects what I do. I know what my strengths are and I know what my weaknesses are. I don't worry about that other stuff.

"I know I'm not going to wake up and have a laser like Ovechkin or Stamkos," Crosby added with a laugh.

A player's game is a composition. Sometimes it's a line, sometimes a paragraph. Right now, Crosby's game is a novel.

Scott Burnside covers the NHL for ESPN.com.