There were several pressing questions about Sidney Crosby as the midpoint of the 2010-11 season approached.
Like, where would he display the Art Ross Trophy he seemed so likely to win, and whether he possibly could be chosen as the NHL's most valuable player by unanimous vote.
He was piling up that many points and playing that much better than anyone else in the league through the first half.
But the course of Crosby's season -- and, in some ways, his career -- changed abruptly Jan. 1, 2011, when Washington's David Steckel caught him with a blind-side blow to the head.
He finished that game and dressed for another four nights later, but that was the final time Crosby played for more than 10 months.
There would be no second scoring championship for him that season, no second Hart Trophy.
But the standard of excellence he set over the first 40 games that winter endured and remains the gauge for judging his work.
Through the first third of this season, he has measured up pretty well to it.
Crosby enters the Penguins' game against Philadelphia at 7:38 p.m. today at Consol Energy Center with 24 points -- good for second in the NHL scoring race before games Tuesday night -- and 17 assists, which tied him for the league lead. He also has won 56.1 percent of his faceoffs, ranked sixth in the league with 61 shots and owns a plus-minus rating of plus-11 that tied him for the fourth best in the NHL.
Coach Dan Bylsma said Tuesday that Crosby's performance level in 2010-11 "was maybe the highest in his career," then added that "he's at a pretty high level right now."
"It's not just one amazing play you look at and say, 'This guy's at a high level, where he's playing great,' " Bylsma said. "It's night after night, game after game, that he's playing well.
"It's not just a highlight reel. It's the full game. The details that you see, night-in and night-out, and the effort level, [are] the amazing part about it."
First goal looms big
Precedent suggests that the first goal could be close to decisive, especially if the Penguins get it.
Which they usually have this season.
They have taken a 1-0 lead in 13 of their first 16 games and have gone 10-3 when they happens.
The Flyers, conversely, have given up the opening goal eight times, and are 1-6-1 in those games.
Conversely, Philadelphia is 6-3 when scoring the first goal.
There is growing sentiment to have NHL players participate in the 2014 Olympics in Sochi, Russia, and Bylsma is one of those who believes it's a good idea.
"I want them to play," he said.
"I think it's great. For me, the Olympics are the best players in the world competing in that tournament, for the Olympic gold medal."
Bylsma, it should be noted, is widely regarded as one of the leading candidates to coach Team USA if NHL players take part in the 2014 Games.
Not Max-ing out
Philadelphia center Max Talbot, who scored a career-high 19 goals in his first season with the Flyers, does not have a goal in his first 17 games this season.
Talbot has managed three assists after putting up 15 in 81 games last season.
His best goal production in five-plus season with the Penguins came in 2006-07, when he scored 13.
Malkin 3rd in KHL
Despite returning to play in North America when the NHL lockout ended last month, Penguins center Evgeni Malkin finished third in the Kontinental Hockey League's scoring race.
He put up 23 goals and 42 assists in 37 games, placing him behind only Magnitogorsk teammate Sergei Mozyakin (76 points in 48 games).
Former NHL player Alexander Radulov (68 points in 48 games) was second in the scoring race.
Malkin is the defending NHL scoring champion.
First Published February 20, 2013 5:00 AM