Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Sidney Crosby Is Rising Star for Hockey

If Sidney Crosby hasn’t noticed, he is the beloved son of Pittsburgh, much like the Steelers are greatly loved in the same town. The winter months never felt so pleasant, now that Sid the Kid warms up the hockey season and fuels a furnace inside the Consol Energy Center. He is like an intense flame on frozen water, a star on ice, the face of hockey — turning a venue into a playoff-like atmosphere.

Crosby, who missed nearly a year due to a concussion, returned to the Pittsburgh Penguins Monday for an exceptional debut in a 5-0 shutout of the New York Islanders at a venue that doesn’t seem like the Igloo. His return should, therefore, raise fear and be taken into consideration after leading the Penguins, while all eyes were directly on Crosby.

This may have been the week when hockey became relevant, and when the Penguins reclaimed normalcy. Fans are pumped up as Crosby is back and healthy. Now, especially with him back, the Penguins seem lethal — and perhaps — even more physical and energized. Every once in a while, such as his fantastic comeback after recovering from a severe blow to the head, Crosby reminds everyone that he’s the greatest on ice and skates his way to brilliance in an eye-popping performance.

When he returned to the ice for the first time in nearly a season, after sitting out for 320 days with concussion-like symptoms, it almost felt like the Stanley Cup Finals. The reason for this, as Crosby is the biggest star in the game, is because he is the most gifted player ever — at least in Canada — where he is virtually an icon flattered by every hockey fan. And as the rest of us are intrigued by the hype, the comeback that built excitement, the time has come for Crosby, 24, returning to usual form and looking healthy.

So what exactly is the big deal?

If so many people are willingly cheering for Crosby, who hasn’t played since Jan. 5 after he was injured on a hit by Tampa Bay defenseman Victor Hedman, then it is clear that the folks glorify him. With him back, the game itself has ballooned in popularity. If he’s not around, hockey seems unwatchable and pedestrian.

In other words, Crosby saves the game from itself. At a time when he clearly showed that he has fully recovered, finishing with two goals and two assists, he looked awfully good. Very seldom do we see an unbelievable performance from a player who almost missed an entire season. Very seldom do we see a hockey star have an impact on the first night of his return after battling a concussion.

It doesn’t matter that Crosby is probably the only sensational NHL player in the public’s eye right now. He’s a star on the rise, and when he was just a rookie, Crosby was named the Penguins’ captain. What does matter is that he represents hockey in a good way, a game that almost died but had been revived by his presence, heroics and perfection.

The public was utterly in love with his ability to blow by Islanders defenseman Andrew MacDonald and score his first goal in 328 days. Faced with pressure and burdens, the reality was that Crosby had been longing for this moment, watching his teammate Brooks Orpik beat Islanders goaltender Anders Nilsson after Crosby, of course, fired a well-executed pass to him.

The thing is, it would be an insult to discount the Penguins, who can hold the Stanley Cup above their heads. Mario Lemieux is now the current team owner, and Pittsburgh is where Crosby is a superstar, following the footsteps of the Hall of Famer, Lemieux.

The stakes were high, and he wisely took precautionary actions, knowing the way his body would react to concussions. The best news is that Crosby appears to be robust after his intermission, and he certainly was his normal self Monday night. It wasn’t like he was ideally efficient when shooting the puck, but he was close to perfect, scoring on his first shot.

This is what builds on a remarkable legacy, one that consist of greatness from just one performance — beginning with his first shot. It was, in many ways, spectacular and refreshing. It was, however, a game where he sent a statement, informing the world that he’s healthy and conscious. It was a great play and it contributed to the Penguins victory, as the best moment came on an extraordinary backhander from Crosby.

It was likely one of his utmost performances as a hockey superstar, a lovable guy in Pittsburgh and a solid franchise player. Fans love him. Other players love him, too. Much has happened since he has arrived to the NHL, with him incredibly making an impact and popularizing the game. The Penguins, who escapes from the mediocrity, are fun to watch. The defining moment for Crosby came quickly. It took no time for him to find his touch and be a factor, setting up two goals and scoring on the last goal with his effective backhander.

“A game like tonight, you run on adrenaline,” Crosby said during an interview on Versus. “The next few games it will start to set in and it will be tougher.”

This was all about Crosby, setting the tone for his teammates. This was all about Crosby, putting his team in position to win. And at the end of the night, the Penguins prevailed. Over a tense, physical three hours of fun, he was hit multiple times, he attempted eight shots and won 14 of 21 face-offs, a splendid effort at home where flashbulbs went off and where the reaction made his presence felt on the ice.

Standing near the New York net while the Penguins had a power-play opportunity, Islanders defenseman Travis Hamonic turned and noticed Crosby by his goaltender, and sent him crashing to the ice. This wasn’t just a way to fire him up, but a way to test his body in his first game back. After the fall, Crosby quickly bounced back to his feet without confrontation. He was, as the Islanders never had an answer for the Penguins, the best player out there — competing to be the very best in pursuit of another Stanley Cup.

His teammate, defenseman Zbynek Michalek, was brilliant himself. The Penguins played as a balanced team for the first time this season. The disciplined goaltender, Marc-Andre Fleury, eyed the puck from every angle and shut down the net, finishing the night with 29 saves. Crosby was not the only one having an awesome night, though, and he had reinforcements. Evgeni Malkin scored a goal and had an assist. Steve Sullivan, in the second period, scored on a goal and finished on a terrific passing play from James Neal to Malkin to Sullivan for a tap-in.

But more than ever, this was the greatest hockey star who earned the nickname “Sid the Kid.” It’s his psyche and talent that sets Crosby apart from other players, finishing with two goals, two assists and eight shots on net. Last season, he was the NHL scoring-leader with 66 points in 41 games, but he took severe hits to the head in consecutive games and suffered from dizziness and headaches having a confused state of mind.

He wasn’t uninspired nor unprepared, even though he missed a total of 68 games — including the playoffs. He is ready for the toughest task this season, inspiring the crowd to chant loudly. For no one more than coach Dan Bylsma, he feels good about the Crosby craze, and somehow he is amazed by it. He is ready for a double dose.

“It’s a feel I hope to get used to for more than just one game,” Bylsma said.

“Crosby! Crosby! Crosby!”

This is an unreal hockey story, not even close to the Miracle on Ice, but it ranks up there with it. And yes, the place was crazy. Crosby is back.