TORONTO, March 9 (Reuters) - The last time Sidney Crosby graced Toronto ice before Saturday's clash with the Maple Leafs, he was not yet enshrined as a national hero for scoring the goal that would give Canada the ice hockey gold at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics.
The Pittsburgh Penguins captain was still 'Sid the Kid' then, living with team owner Mario Lemieux and had not yet signed a 12-year $104 million deal.
Indeed, a lot has happened in the hockey life of number 87 since Jan. 9, 2010, the last time an Air Canada Centre audience had a chance to bask in Crosby's brilliance.
For one, 'Sid the Kid' is now 'Sid the Man', a little older but a lot wiser having dealt with career-threatening head trauma that has limited him to 47 games over the last 26 months and a bitter lockout that very nearly robbed him of another season of an extraordinary career.
While Crosby's appearance in Toronto - as it is in every NHL city - is always a special occasion for the fans it is also a date circled on players' calendars, particularly if it falls on Saturday in Toronto.
Growing up in Cole Harbour, Nova Scotia, Hockey Night in Canada was a tradition in the Crosby household just as it remains today for millions of hockey-obsessed families across the country.
Like the National Football League's Monday Night Football, Hockey Night in Canada, a Canadian institution celebrating its 60th season, is the stage on which all players want to perform.
"I don't know how long it's been but it's been awhile," said Crosby following Saturday's game day practise when asked if he could remember his last visit to Toronto. "It's always fun, Hockey Night in Canada growing up it's something you always dreamed of doing.
"It never gets old.
"I always get excited to play here. We always seem to have a quick pace, it's not one the goalies usually enjoy."
Certainly Crosby and company made it a tough night for James Reimer as Pittsburgh outshot Toronto 41-26 pumping four goals past the Toronto netminder before clinching a 5-4 victory in an overtime shootout.
Crosby, the National Hockey League's scoring leader, slammed home a goal in the opening period to give him 40 points on the season then added the shootout winner snapping a pinpoint wrist shot by Reimer to cap a successful return to Toronto and run the surging Penguins winning streak to four games.
"I feel good, I feel comfortable the timing is there, it took a little while to get that but I'm just happy to be playing a lot of games," said Crosby, after extending his point streak to a season high seven games. "I feel like every night that I can adjust hopefully find ways to create some offense.
"Some nights are tougher than others but obviously the way our team is playing right now it makes it easier for everyone individually when we're all going."
With Crosby leading the NHL's top ranked attack, the Penguins have solidified their position at the top of the Atlantic division and are locked in battle with the Boston Bruins and Montreal Canadiens for first in the Eastern Conference.
While the spotlight has been focused on Pittsburgh's powerhouse attack that includes Evgeni Malkin, the league's reigning most valuable player and James Neal, who is closing in on the goal scoring lead after potting his 16th of the season, coach Dan Byslma insisted there is much more to his team than flashy offense.
"There's focus on who gets the goals and there always will be when you have guys like Crosby and Malkin," said Bylsma. "You see those highlights every night and I'm not sure that is a good depiction of where our team is at or how we're playing." (Editing by Amlan Chakraborty)