There are people out there -- quite a few, actually -- who don't believe Sidney Crosby is the best hockey player in the world.
After all, it doesn't take an overheated imagination to formulate a credible argument for, say, Evgeni Malkin or Alex Ovechkin.
Not having access to tapes showing how Crosby has performed the past week or so would help, too.
It's not just Crosby's staggering personal line score of late -- six goals and three assists in the past three games, seven goals and five assists in the past five -- but the way he has left an indelible mark on games almost any time he has gone over the boards.
"Every shift, you notice him out there," Penguins center Jordan Staal said. "He's making every play. And more."
Crosby's goals -- like the first of his three against New Jersey Saturday, when he burst past the Devils' defense and, after being poke-checked by goalie Scott Clemmensen, chased the puck down before backhanding it into the net -- are what make the highlights shows, but not every spectacular play he has made shows up on the score sheet.
If they had, he might have wrapped up his second scoring championship by now instead of sitting five behind Malkin in the points race.
"There was one shift a few games ago when he killed about 30 seconds just going back and forth in the corner," defenseman Hal Gill said. "It doesn't get us a goal or anything, but as a player, you realize how impressive that is."
At least one guy hasn't been overwhelmed by Crosby's work of late, however. Asked about the rarefied level at which he has been performing, Crosby allowed simply that, "It's starting to come."
Uh, yeah. Just a little.
Fact is, the three-points-per-game pace he has been on since the Penguins visited Long Island Wednesday projects to 246 over an 82-game season, so it's safe to assume Crosby won't maintain it indefinitely. If he does, the league office might want to start soliciting bids for a complete overhaul of its record book.
Crosby had, by his standards, a pretty ordinary start to the season, and an apparent hip injury he got in Phoenix Oct. 30 certainly didn't help.
But whatever issues impeded him during much of October and November appear to have been exorcised. Crosby said there's no explanation "that I know of" for the spike in his performance level, but acknowledged being aware of the upgrade.
"Over the last 10 games or so, with each game I've felt like I've been getting better, creating a little more," he said.
"There were some games where I had some great chances and the puck didn't go in. Right now, the puck's going in for me."
Crosby's uncharacteristic run of goal-scoring aside, the most striking facet of his resurgence might be his skating.
One of the qualities that separates great players from the rest is their ability to do things at high speed. Actually, that's not quite the case with Crosby; for the past week or so, he has been doing almost everything not at high speed, but at full speed.
"He's really starting to [carry] the puck with speed now, and make the [opposing defensemen] back up," Staal said.
And, at times, practically making it impossible for his shadow to keep up.
"He's skating like the wind," right winger Tyler Kennedy said. "Once he gets the puck, it's like rockets go off in his skates, and guys are just trying to catch him. He's so fast right now."
Coach Michel Therrien has deployed Crosby and Malkin together frequently in recent games, and that's spawned a synergy that has brought out the best in both.
"It's not really a competition," forward Max Talbot said. "But they're obviously playing good hockey."
Maybe the best Crosby has played since he broke into the league in 2005. And maybe better than anyone else in the universe.
Dave Molinari can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org . First Published December 1, 2008 5:00 AM