There is one undeniable fact in the NHL right now: No one else is performing at the level of Sidney Crosby. Period.
Through 25 games, the Penguins' captain leads the NHL in scoring with 40 points, one ahead of Tampa Bay's Steven Stamkos, and looks set to challenge his 2006-2007 career high of 120 points. Crosby's month of November has been the source of much of his statistical dominance - he has 25 points in his last 12 games, a streak punctuated by his hat trick against the Calgary Flames on Saturday.
The most impressive thing about his production? He's doing most of it on his own.
Since the Penguins' power play has been mediocre, at best, Crosby has had to find ways to score in even-strength situations, where he generally plays with less-than-desirable wingers. For some perspective, Stamkos spends much of his time with former scoring champ Martin St. Louis on his wing, while Alexander Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom are attached at the hip. Meanwhile, Chicago Blackhawks' Patrick Sharp, seventh in the NHL in scoring, has to tough it out with Tomas Kopecky and Marian Hossa flanking him.
Crosby? He usually plays with Chris Kunitz and Pascal Dupuis. Both are players who have put together 20+ goal seasons in their careers, with Kunitz acting as a serviceable power forward and Dupuis the grinding speedster. But neither has the ability to provide any real help for Crosby, especially in distribution. They'll do the little things well and crash the net, but that's about it.
Crosby does skate with Evgeni Malkin a few shifts a game, the result of Dan Bylsma's love of mixing up line combinations. But Crosby also finds himself playing alongside Craig Adams and Mike Rupp, neither of them offensive dynamos. Malkin has assisted six of Crosby's 18 goals this season, or 33%. For comparison, Martin St. Louis has assisted 12 of Stamkos' 21 goals, or 57% and all of Stamkos' last eight goals.
Is this meant to imply that Stamkos is living off of St. Louis? No. But it is meant to show that Crosby does not often find himself with the luxury of skating with a Malkin or a player near that level, and yet he manages to lead the NHL in scoring.
Meanwhile, the Penguins have not lost a contest in regulation since suffering an embarrassing 7-4 loss at the hands of the Boston Bruins on November 10. In that span, the Penguins have gone 8-0-1, and are now riding a six-game winning streak.
This is no coincidence.
But it's not just Crosby's scoring that has driven the Penguins' quick early-season turnaround. It's everything he provides to the team. From increased appearances on the penalty kill, to minimizing silly penalties, taking on an incredible burden in the faceoff circle and playing through injury, the Penguins breathe through Crosby's lungs.
For example, Crosby has taken 604 faceoffs this season, most in the NHL, and has won 331 (54.8%) of them, good for second in the league. Sneaky numbers like this are often overlooked, but help paint a proper picture of the Penguins' captain and his vital role with the team.
Much of this - the references to Crosby piling up huge numbers without much help from his teammates, or breathing life into his team - must look like hyperbole. But, frankly, Penguins are not even a playoff team without No. 87 in the lineup. With him, they'll challenge for the top spot in the Eastern Conference. That makes Sidney Crosby, through 25 games, the NHL's most valuable player.