Crosby puts to rest any debate about who’s best

Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin each had a goal and two assists as the Pittsburgh Penguins defeated the Toronto Maple Leafs.

TORONTO — Sidney Crosby does not just kill a conversation. He interrupts things mid-sentence, flips over the table, cuts all power to the room and leaves you as confused as a member of the Toronto Maple Leafs attempting a breakout.

It is just two games into the Pittsburgh Penguins season and there is already no oxygen — no life — left in the hottest of hot takes from last spring.

Indeed, that tortured discussion about who had displaced Crosby as the best hockey player on the planet seems like nothing more than hot air right now. After two dominant games, six points, and an immediate return to his normal spot at the top of the NHL’s scoring table.

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The only thing Crosby should really have been accused of last May was a run of bad luck. For all of the attention his one goal in 13 playoff games garnered, many conveniently overlooked the fact he directed 38 shots on goal.

This is a man who has scored on 14.6 percent of his shots during 647 career NHL games. Realistically, what were the odds of him continuing at a clip of 2.6 percent if the Penguins hadn’t blown a 3-1 series lead against the New York Rangers?

While the emotional baggage of another playoff disappointment had long since subsided by the time Crosby arrived at Air Canada Centre on Saturday, the memory of what was said about him had not.

Not unlike many of the all-time sporting greats — Michael Jordan and Tiger Woods jump immediately to mind — Crosby seems to be able to turn perceived slights into fuel. And over 120 minutes of hockey he has energetically gone about moving past his most pointed round of criticism yet.

There was no doubt about who would be named first star after Pittsburgh’s 5-2 dismantling of the Maple Leafs on Saturday night. Crosby was all over the ice. He scored a ridiculous goal and set up two others. He batted pucks out of the air and caused turnovers and took one backhand shot that could rival the average NHL wrist shot.

The Penguins built up such a comfortable cushion by the third period that coach Mike Johnston was able to use his captain sparingly. There is, after all, a long way to go.

If there was any doubt about the fact that Crosby was in mid-season form, it should have been dismissed with his third goal of the season. He found Kris Letang at the point on the power play and headed straight for the net.

When Letang’s shot ricocheted off the end boards, Crosby went down on one knee to scoop the puck into the top of the net from a ridiculous angle. It was almost like a chip shot in golf. The hand-eye co-ordination required was off the charts.

It was the kind of play where you might be inclined to say that Crosby was simply in the right place at the right time. However, to argue that is to ignore that he’s been in the right place at the right time for a decade.

Mentally, No. 87 seems to be in a good place right now.

After the failed expectations and the house-cleaning the Penguins endured over the summer, the new season has brought a new perspective.

“Losing that series last year was pretty heavy,” Crosby said Saturday. “I think it took a long time for that sting to go away. … Just being able to turn the page and start fresh, I think that’s exciting, knowing that everything else is in the past.”

That includes the misguided talk about Crosby no longer being the best.

We’ve been through this before. All of that chatter in Sochi about Crosby’s ineffectiveness sure looked silly when he secured Canada’s second Olympic gold in four years by going backhand-deke on Henrik Lundqvist.

One of the big talking points around Crosby early in his 10th NHL season is his advancing age. Scott Oake got a chuckle out of the 27-year-old in a pre-game interview on “Hockey Night in Canada” when he asked about some refusing to let his Sid the Kid nickname die.

There are so many young stars to watch in the sport right now — hello John Tavares and Steven Stamkos — and someone will eventually wrestle the crown away from Crosby. It happens to every superstar.

But if there’s one thing we’ve seen already this season it’s that the time is not now.

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