Sidney Crosby skates over one of the hundreds of hats that hit the ice after he scored an empty-net goal against the Calgary Flames to cap off his hat trick in the third period Saturday.
Keith Srakocic/Associated Press
Sidney Crosby gets congratulations from teammate Evgeni Malkin after Crosby scored his 200th career goal and second of three goals in Saturday's game against Calgary.
By Shelly Anderson Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
The Penguins were given the day off from practice Sunday. Had they been on the ice assistant coach Tony Granato at some point would have parked himself in a corner of the ice and fed pucks to Sidney Crosby for shot after shot.
It's a regular ritual, one that goes beyond Crosby honing his aim or velocity. The Penguins center and captain feels compelled to work on shooting for shooting's sake.
"Shooting the puck is still something I continue to make sure I do," Crosby said. "It's not something that comes naturally, so it's something I've really got to emphasize and practice a lot."
This from a guy who had just recorded a hat trick Saturday in a 4-1 win against Calgary to move into first place in the NHL scoring race with 40 points, one more than Tampa Bay's Steven Stamkos, who had one assist later Saturday.
Matchup: Penguins at New York Rangers, 7:08 p.m. today, Madison Square Garden, New York.
Penguins: Were 3-0 at MSG last season. ... 2.44 goals against/game among best in NHL. ... Craig Adams has no points in 15 games.
Rangers: Are 4-1 in past 5 games. ... 27.6 shots/game among league's lowest. ... Sean Avery (84) and Brandon Prust (69) among league leaders in penalty minutes.
Of note: The Penguins have not allowed a power-play goal in 27 chances and eight games in row, and penalty killing ranked first, 90.2 percent, entering Sunday's games.
And a guy who takes a 12-game points streak, which is the longest in the league this season and includes 12 goals, into a game tonight against the Rangers in New York.
And a guy who, before Sunday's games, ranked seventh in the league with 97 shots, 12 behind teammate Evgeni Malkin's league-best 109.
Through 25 games, Crosby has been shooting a lot, and effectively. He ranked 17th in shooting percentage at 18.6 and is on pace to set career bests with 131 points and 59 goals.
Crosby, 23, also leads all forwards in ice time (22 minutes, 15 seconds on average), was first with 604 faceoffs and fourth in faceoff win percentage, 54.8, among those with at least 400 draws.
His play during his scoring streak has been stellar in all areas of the ice, and the Penguins are 9-2-1, including six wins in a row. It's probably not a coincidence that Crosby launched the streak following the team's dismal performance -- a game that included several fights, one involving Crosby -- in a 5-2 loss Nov. 3 at Dallas.
In addition to 25 points in the 12 games, he has three power-play goals, 43 shots, eight hits, seven blocked shots, a plus-minus rating of plus-6, and just four penalty minutes. The only area with any discernable dropoff is in faceoffs. He has been under 50 percent in six of the 12 games, after topping 50 percent in 10 of the first 13 games.
Coach Dan Bylsma said fans are seeing the steady, heady version of Crosby.
"I don't know if he's elevated his game other than the consistency with which he's playing," Bylsma said. "Every night he's the target of the other team, and the other team understands how dangerous he is and what he's doing. Some nights are more close-checking than others for him, but his focus and his playing the right way and continuing to work has been outstanding through this stretch.
"The numbers are fantastic. You see the great plays. He's always had the ability to do that, but I think the consistency with which he plays is a credit."
Crosby has just three takeaways during his scoring streak, but he knows how to pick his spots. Wednesday, he poached the puck from Buffalo's Luke Adam and set up linemate Pascal Dupuis for the only goal of the game.
Asked about the scoring streak, Crosby immediately deflected credit to his teammates, particularly Dupuis and left winger Chris Kunitz.
"I feel good," he said. "I feel like our team's been playing well, and our line's been generating some chances. I still feel like we can get better. That's the good thing. I feel like we can execute and get even better, but the big thing is we're all competing as a team, as a line.
"You need a lot of different things. I think as a line [Dupuis] and [Kunitz] are really competing and creating plays."
Kunitz has seven points during Crosby's streak, Dupuis five.
Crosby's production can be traced to his work ethic. His extra shooting work with Granato is an example, but his summers filled with training are better known.
In past offseasons, he has emphasized faceoffs, shootout attempts and shooting. Those areas have seen corresponding improvement.
In the summer of 2009, he switched from a two-piece to a one-piece stick and worked on shooting more and from different areas. He followed that with 51 goals last season, tying him with Stamkos for most in the NHL.
Crosby has been pressed to reveal what he worked on most heavily over the past summer. He has repeatedly said he focused on overall improvement -- with a little extra time spent on shooting -- and now he's proving what that means.
He sided with Bylsma about what has made his streak possible.
"Consistency's a big one," Crosby said. "You need some luck, too, but I feel like we're giving ourselves a chance collectively, and, individually, I'm giving myself a chance by competing and executing well. When you do that, you hope that [good] things happen."