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Crosby lives up to 'Next One' hype

It's already been five years since word began spreading about this kid who would become known as "The Next One." Sidney Crosby was just 14, and his avalanche of scoring was attracting attention.

After years of talk and anticipation, little has changed. Crosby is just 19, and his avalanche of scoring is attracting attention.

The Pittsburgh Penguins phenom visits Buffalo tonight for the final time this regular season. He returns having shed the word "future" from the phrase "future star." It turns out the hype was warranted.

"He's certainly lived up to it, and then some," Sabres co-captain Chris Drury said Thursday.

For all his skills -- vision, speed, strength, passing, shooting and scoring -- the thing that may be most impressive about Crosby is the nickname is still there. Young players with potential often get an unreachable moniker placed on them. They soon wither.

But the next Wayne Gretzky is accomplishing things as if he really is the next Wayne Gretzky.

"With him it's been five years already, so he's used to it," Sabres defenseman Teppo Numminen said. "He carried himself with that label all the way up here. If you survive with that label this long, you're doing well."

Crosby enters HSBC Arena tonight as the leading scorer in the NHL, the first teenager to hold the top spot since Gretzky during the 1979-80 season. If Crosby finishes the season No. 1, he will become the youngest player ever to do it.

Crosby, with 19 goals and 42 assists, has 61 points in 35 games. Atlanta's Marian Hossa is second with 56 points, and he's played seven more games than Sid the Kid, who missed three games with a groin injury.

"I'm happy with the way I've played," Crosby told the Toronto Sun last week. "I think last year I adjusted probably faster than even I would've expected, getting comfortable early. I just think I gained confidence and tried to take what I did in the second half last year into this year, trying to play the same way."

Crosby has six points in the past two games, scoring twice and adding an assist in Tuesday's 3-0 victory over Carolina. He has been kept off the score sheet only eight times.

"If anybody doubted him, he's proving everybody wrong right now because he's got tremendous talent, tremendous speed, and he's doing it an awful young age," said Sabres coach Lindy Ruff, who admitted he had doubts Crosby could live up to his calling. "I thought maybe he didn't quite have the speed to play in the game. I was dead wrong on that one, so I'm not going to question anything.

"He's done nothing but get better."

Because of Crosby's age, the potential for more on-ice growth remains for the 5-foot-11, 193-pounder.

"He's so young, he's so good," Drury said, "and at times it's easy to forget it's only 40 games into his second season."

Most of the attention on Crosby revolves around his long-term potential to put up the best numbers ever. His immediate goal is to win tonight, which is a big enough challenge if history is any indication.

The Sabres have a seven-game unbeaten streak against Pittsburgh, going 6-0 with a tie dating back to the 2003-04 season. The last time the Penguins won in Buffalo was Dec. 16, 2003. They have won only three of their past 13 games on the road, and they meet a Sabres team that has won four straight at home.

The Penguins play four of their next five on the road, so fans in other towns will soon get their chance to see how The Next One is maintaining his hold as The Next One.

"I don't put pressure on myself to be that guy," Crosby said in December. "I want to be my best, and that's all I try to do."


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