Penguins captain Sidney Crosby has accomplished a lot for a hockey player who's just 22 years of age. Frankly, he's accomplished a lot for a player of 35.
Faced with a tremendous amount of hype to live up to - none of it of his own making - he did exactly that, leading the Pens to a Stanley Cup victory last June and claiming several individual accolades along the way, more than surpassing the mantle of "the Next One" that was placed on him when he was still in just his mid-teens.
But there's one thing Crosby has never done that may surprise some fans of the game: score 50 goals in a season. In fact, he hasn't even come all that close; in 2005-06, his rookie season, the Cole Harbour, Nova Scotia native scored 39 goals, still the most times he's lit the lamp in an NHL campaign.
This season could be different though. As 2009-10 rolls on, Crosby is on pace to hit that elusive 50-goal mark for the first time, a fact that he's chalking up to a newfound sense of poise and self-assurance.
"I think anyone who scores or any offensive player will tell you (that) you build confidence the more you see the puck go in and from different areas as well, so definitely you need to have a sense of confidence if you want to score consistently," says Crosby.
There's also a constant hunger for self-improvement.
"I think I always want more. I want more goals, I want more assists," Crosby says. "That's the way you have to think. You have to want to improve, you have to want more."
Pens head coach Dan Bylsma says that it's the general headspace of successful people in any area of life.
"It's a way of living life that I think people who continue to get better and get the most out of themselves have," says Bylsma. "It's, 'How can I get better? How can I improve? Are there different ways? Different avenues? And then how do I do it?'. You don't see too many great players - great people in their fields - that don't have a similar mindset."
Crosby has never had a shortage of assists since entering the league in 2005-06. A quick glance at his career statistics shows "Sid the Kid" has 292 helpers to 161 goals in 336 regular season games.
But this year, #87 has made a few adjustments to his game, including making a more conscious effort to shoot the puck more frequently.
"I think in the past I probably looked to pass a little bit more instead of just putting it at the goalie's pads or throwing it in an area," says Crosby. "It doesn't always result in goals but hopefully it can kind of keep guys honest."
"Before, he would look to pass first and pass second and shoot when he got into the 10-foot area of the net," says Bylsma. "But now he's looking to shoot."
And it's showing. Just barely halfway through the season, Crosby already has 180 shots, putting him on pace for a little under 360 on the year. Last season, he finished with 238, meaning he's averaging almost a shot-per-game more than last season.
Crosby also switched from a two-piece stick to a one-piece.
"I used (a) wood blade for a long time and they didn't make it anymore so I switched to a one-piece and it definitely helps with your shot," says Crosby.
He also worked on his faceoff technique in the off-season and has won 58% of his draws this season, which is almost a seven percent improvement over 2008-09.
For those who already thought Crosby was a formidable opponent, it looks like things are only going to get tougher for them.
Crosby and the Pens kick off a three-game road trip against the Flames on Wednesday night before moving on to take on the Oilers and the Canucks.
Crosby, who has 29 goals and 27 assists in 46 games this season, was the first overall pick in the 2005 NHL Entry Draft.
- with files from TSN's Jermain Franklin