UNIONDALE, N.Y. — Last fall, Penguins center Sidney Crosby was a popular choice to win the 2013-14 NHL scoring championship.
More than halfway through the season, that hasn’t changed.
Nonetheless, it’s a bit early for the league to send the Art Ross Trophy out to the engraver, because Crosby’s lead in the points race hardly is secure. He entered the Penguins’ game against the New York Islanders Thursday night at Nassau Coliseum with 69, only seven more than Islanders center John Tavares.
Whether Tavares realized how close he is to Crosby wasn’t clear, however, because he insisted Thursday that he doesn’t pay attention to such things.
“Personally, I don’t like to look [at individual stats], just because I think that’s the wrong mindset to have,” Tavares said. “You go out there to be effective — obviously, I’m counted on to contribute offensively — but I’m not looking at the stats and worrying about those things.
“We have to get wins. I’m just trying to play well, a 200-foot game, both sides of the puck. And when I get my chances, I obviously want to put them in and make some plays. But that’s not my concern.”
Tavares does, however, pay attention to the man he is chasing and clearly has been impressed by what he has seen.
He said he regards Crosby as the NHL’s top player and offered a lengthy explanation of his opinion.
“You look at his resume, and you look at him on a consistent basis, the level he’s at is so high,” Tavares said. “His game never seems to dip.
“He’s always just improving, getting better, and he’s so consistent in the way he plays. Not just producing, but he makes everyone around him better, and that’s not an easy thing to do.
“He’s a great leader. He’s a heck of a hockey player.”
Sill returns to minors
The Penguins assigned center Zach Sill to their American Hockey League affiliate in Wilkes-Barre.
He did not have a point in 20 games with the Penguins, but logged one minute, 54 seconds of his average of 10 minutes and 47 seconds of ice time killing penalties, the fourth-highest figure among Penguins forwards.
Okposo handles snub well
Penguins coach Dan Bylsma, who will coach the U.S. at the Olympics, said that leaving Islanders winger Kyle Okposo off the squad “certainly was one of the tough decisions for Team USA.”
Okposo, who plays with Tavares and Thomas Vanek on New York’s top line, made no secret of his disappointment about not being selected, but he has not let it disrupt his game.
He put up 11 points (five goals, six assists) in his first 11 games after the roster was announced.
“It was frustrating to not be selected,” Okposo said. “I felt like I did everything I could. That being said, I moved forward and moved on pretty quickly.”
Okposo added that he has not “had any contact” with USA Hockey officials about the possibility of being added to the roster an as injury replacement.
Vanek settles in
Islanders general manager Garth Snow made a bold move Oct. 27, when he acquired Vanek from Buffalo for Matt Moulson and two high draft choices.
Vanek has settled into a productive groove for New York — he had been held without a point in just one of his previous 17 games before facing the Penguins Thursday night — but acknowledged that adjusting to his new surroundings took a while.
“I was in a hotel for a whole month until I found a place [to live], kind of got settled in,” he said. “Even though it doesn’t seem like much [of an adjustment], it is.
“I knew it was coming, sooner or later, the trade out of Buffalo, but, when it happened that early, I was kind of surprised. It’s the first time I’ve been through it, so everything was a little bit new.
“Each week, it got better. Now, it’s great.”
The Penguins activated forward Andrew Ebbett from injured-reserve, although he did not play. … Female hockey player Hayley Wickenheiser was named to be Canada’s flag-bearer for opening ceremonies at the Olympics in Sochi, Russia, next month. Crosby had been viewed as a candidate for that honor.
Dave Molinari: Dmolinari@Post-Gazette.com and Twitter @MolinariPG.