Sidney Crosby wants to play a full season in 2012-13.
There was a time when Crosby was the standard bearer in the NHL. He had gone to battle a number of times with Washington's Alex Ovechkin, and at the end of those battles, Crosby had proved himself to be the better player.
The great players in the NHL could all make their cases as the top players in the sport, but they all had to take their spot in line behind Sid The Kid.
Then came the moment that changed life in the NHL for Crosby and the Penguins. He took an abusive head shot from David Steckel in the 2011 Winter Classic against the Washington Capitals. He bravely tried to soldier on and he took another shot from Victor Hedman in the following game against the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Those two punishing blows left Crosby on the sidelines for the better part of one-and-a-half seasons. Crosby missed the rest of the 2010-11 season, and then had one aborted comeback before he was back on the ice taking a regular turn in the final weeks of the regular season and the playoffs.
While Crosby was forced to convalesce, rehab and stay on the sidelines, Evgeni Malkin decided he was not going to let the Penguins fall by the wayside.
Long recognized for his overwhelming physical talent, decisive skating and superb hands, Malkin put it all together and led the league in scoring with 109 points. Malkin showed he could carry the team as he had 50 goals and nine of those were game winners.
More than the numbers, Malkin stepped up and proved to be a leader for his team. In addition to winning the Ross Trophy as the NHL's leading scorer, he also came away with the Hart Trophy as the league MVP.
Pittsburgh head coach Dan Bylsma said that the pressure was on Malkin, because his talent had been so widely recognized by teammates and opponents. Bylsma told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that Malkin "took over games" and won respect in doing it.
But now with Crosby on tap to play a full season—as long as the NHL cooperates and avoids a work stoppage—it's time for Sid the Kid to assert himself again.
This does not mean that Malkin is going to fade away. When Crosby and Malkin play together, they seem to feed off each other and make each other better players. But Crosby will have that extra motivation this year.
He wants to stay healthy. He wants to play a full season. He wants to dominate again.
The leadership ability that Malkin had to develop seemingly courses through Crosby's veins. He led the Penguins to the 2009 Stanley Cup and a year later scored the gold medal winning overtime goal for the Canadian Olympic team in the Vancouver Olympics.
Prior to his concussion-related problems, Crosby had scored 100 points or more in four of five seasons and led the league in scoring with 120 points in 2006-07 as a 19-year-old player.
Crosby will get back to that level this year. It's a combination of talent and overwhelming will that should put him in a position to make that happen.
Crosby has been running in neutral for the better part of 20 months. It's time for him to rev up the engine and take the lead for the Penguins once again.
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