Ron Cook: Sidney Crosby still at the top of his game. Just ask other players.

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PITTSBURGH — One sentence. That’s all former NHL and Canada Olympics coach Mike Babcock needed to describe Sidney Crosby. One sentence.

“Sidney Crosby is addicted to winning.”

Babcock made his spot-on observation after Crosby scored the winning goal against the United States in the 2010 Olympics gold-medal game. It just as easily could have been said about Crosby after he led Canada, as team captain, to another gold medal in the 2014 Olympics and the World Cup of Hockey championship in 2016 or after he captained his Penguins teams to any of their three Stanley Cups.

It was said again Tuesday by the NHL Players Association. Nearly 600 players were polled on 20 hockey-related subjects. In virtual landslides, Crosby was voted the league’s most complete player and the one player you’d want on your side to win one game.

The results were a testament to Crosby’s extraordinary staying power on top of his sport. He is 32 in his 15th NHL season. The league is blessed with terrific young players, including Edmonton Oilers star Connor McDavid. It has as good of a goal-scorer as there has ever been, the Washington Capitals’ Alex Ovechkin. Yet Crosby remains the player his peers want on their side when everything is on the line.

“He’s got an insatiable appetite to be the best,” Mike Sullivan said, matching Babcock quote for quote.

Go back to a couple of key games for Crosby this season.

The first was against the Minnesota Wild on Jan. 14. Crosby returned to the lineup after missing 28 games because of a core-muscle injury that required surgery. He had a goal and three assists in the Penguins’ 7-3 win.


What rust?

“It’s hard to get surprised by what Sid accomplishes on the ice when you watch what he’s been able to do,” Sullivan said. “He’s just so capable.”

The second game was on March 3. Crosby’s three-point night in a 7-3 win against the Ottawa Senators was noteworthy because his assist on a Jason Zucker goal was the 800th assist of his career. But it was even more significant because of his actions after the previous game, a 5-0 loss at San Jose, the Penguins’ sixth consecutive loss. He had just one goal and was a minus-8 during the losing streak.

“I put it on myself,” Crosby said in San Jose. “I’ve got to step up. Key situations, you’re down like this, you’re losing games, you need big plays and big performances. I haven’t done that. That’s on me.”

“Anytime a captain and a player of Sid’s caliber takes ownership like that, I think it inspires the rest of the group to want to play for him,” Sullivan said.

“We knew it was only a matter of time,” Marcus Petterson said. “Sid wants the team on his shoulders. He thrives under that.”

Now, sadly, there are no games because of the COVID-19 pandemic. But that hasn’t stopped Crosby from doing captain-like things. It’s one more reason why he’s such a strong leader, the Mark Messier of his generation.

“Sid sets the standard off the ice. He sets the standard on the ice,” Sullivan said Tuesday on a video conference call. “We gain a whole ’nother appreciation for that in a circumstance like this. Once again, he’s leading through his own example. He’s talking to his teammates all the time. He sets the standard with his work ethic and his example and just staying ready. I know how hard he’s working to keep himself ready as best he can. He’s certainly talking to his teammates on a consistent basis to make sure they’re ready. He’s the standard-bearer for our group.”

We started with that magnificent quote from Babcock. Let’s finish with an old one, but a good one from Jim Rutherford.

“Sid’s the guy who leads it. When you come to the rink, you had better be ready to go to work. You’ve got to get on the train with him or you’re going to get run over.”

That was true when Rutherford said it on the ice in Nashville on the night the Penguins clinched the 2017 Cup.

It’s just as true today.

All of those NHL players can’t be wrong.


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