Dave Molinari On The Penguins -- It's hardly a state secret anymore

When the team heads to a shootout, call Erik Christensen.

Erik Christensen was aware that regulation was beginning to wind down and concluded that he wasn't likely to get another shift that night.

Under the circumstances, some players might have been inclined to channel all their energy into rooting for their teammates, but Christensen decided his time could be better spent on something else: Figuring out what he could do to win the game.

That's not the contradiction it might appear to be at first blush, because the score was tied and Christensen, regardless of how often he gets on the ice during regulation and overtime, has staked out a place as the Penguins' go-to guy in shootouts.

Anytime a game stretches beyond overtime, he is, almost without fail, his club's first shooter, in large part because the career record of 10 for 17 he took into the Penguins' game on Long Island last night is easily the best on the team.

His hunch about being stapled to the bench for the rest of regulation and overtime in that game Oct. 19 against Carolina at Mellon Arena proved correct, and Christensen spent the time assessing the play of Hurricanes goalie Cam Ward and considering the best way to go at him on a breakaway.

"Halfway through the third period I probably knew that I wasn't going to play the rest of the game," Christensen said. "So my thought process was, 'If this game goes to a shootout, what am I going to do?' I started thinking about that."

When overtime expired, he recalled, Penguins coach Michel Therrien "tapped me on the back and said, 'Go for a skate.' "

As soon as his legs were loose, Christensen sought out teammate Colby Armstrong, Ward's teammate with Red Deer in the Western Hockey League, and asked his advice on how to handle the shootout.

"He said, 'You have to get him moving,' " Christensen said. "I knew what I was going to do, right from there."

Christensen decided to break out one of his favorites moves, in which he pulls the goalie from one side of the crease to the other before flipping the puck into what tends to be a mostly open net.

"When I make that one big move to the left, [the goalie] goes, 'Oh, he's going over here,' " Christensen said. "Then, by the time he's halfway coming across, I'm going to the other side."

While he likes to be aware of a goaltender's soft spots and tendencies, Christensen said he selects his shootout shot on the basis of "what feels good, what I'm feeling comfortable with from practices."

Last season, Christensen victimized a number of goalies with the move he used on Ward -- "That's what felt right most nights," he said -- but it's not the only one in his repertoire.

In fact, the only certainty when Christensen is in a shootout is that he'll know precisely what he intends to do before he begins skating toward the net rather than making something up as he goes along or hoping the goalie flashes an opening as the play unfolds.

"If I go down on the goalie not exactly knowing [what to do] and trying to figure it out on the way," he said, "It's going to mess with your head, no matter who you are."

Elusive goal

Winger Petr Sykora has 35 two-goal games -- but not a single hat trick -- in 776 NHL appearances.

While it's no surprise that that's a league record, the identity of the player who ranks second on that all-time list might be: It's former Penguin Larry Murphy, a Hall of Fame defenseman who scored twice 28 times in his 1,615-game NHL career but never got No. 3.

Good fortune in Las Vegas

John Curry, the free-agent goalie from Boston University who signed with the Penguins in the summer, hit the jackpot when he went to Las Vegas.

And he didn't have to go anywhere near a casino.

The Wranglers, Las Vegas' entry in the ECHL, were shopping for a goalie a few weeks ago and the Penguins were trying to find places where a couple of goaltending prospects, Curry and David Brown, could go to get steady work.

Brown ended up in Wheeling while Curry headed to Nevada, where he earned ECHL goaltender of the week honors practically before he had an opportunity to unpack his bags, running up a 4-1 record, 2.18 goals-against average and .925 save percentage in his first five appearances with the Wranglers.

Las Vegas will have to get by without him for at least a little while, because Curry has been selected to play for the United States in the Deutschland Cup tournament that begins Thursday in Hannover, Germany.

Tom Fitzgerald, the Penguins' director of player development, will be an assistant coach for that squad, which consists of 21 U.S. players from the ECHL and European professional leagues.

Curry's teammates with the Wranglers, by the way, include the Ferraro twins, Peter and Chris, who spent some time with the Penguins a decade ago.

That Curry ended up with them is coincidence; that the Ferraros are together probably is not. According to the Wranglers, they have been teammates in nine of the past 13 seasons.

Mario can't own every mark

Mario Lemieux holds virtually every offensive record of consequence with the Penguins, and more than a few in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, where he played before being drafted first overall in 1984.

But even though he once put up 11 points in one night while playing for the Laval Voisins, the QMJHL's single-game record is one that Lemieux doesn't own. That one, it turns out, belongs to Penguins assistant coach Andre Savard, pictured at right, who scored three goals and set up nine others Feb. 5, 1971, as a member of the Quebec Remparts. Odds are he finished the evening with a pretty fair plus-minus rating, too.

First Published November 4, 2007 4:00 AM


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