Crosby: Slow start just part of hockey

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He has two points in three games, a pretty fair pace for a third-year pro who's just 20 years old.

Unless the guy happens to be his league's defending scoring champion and has proven more likely to put up two points in a single shift than over three games.

Still, on the long list of things about which the Penguins should be worried -- their lack of consistent focus and intensity through the first week of the season, for example -- Sidney Crosby's failure to accumulate goals and assists at his customary rate is nowhere near the top.

It doesn't seem to be a concern for Crosby. Or any of his teammates, for that matter.

"Those things happen," Crosby said yesterday. "Maybe it's going on now, and it won't happen [later] during the year."

Going into last night's games, Crosby was in a 93-way tie for 96th place in the NHL scoring race, roughly 95 notches below his customary spot.

He was shut out in the Penguins' 4-1 loss Friday at Carolina, then earned an assist in their 5-4 victory the next night against Anaheim and another in their 3-2 loss Wednesday to Montreal.

Crosby easily could have had multiple points against the Canadiens. He generated a game-high six shots on goal, and one of his best opportunities didn't even result in an official shot, as he curled out from behind the Montreal net and threw the puck toward the far post, only to have it sail wide.

He had several other chances from close range, and one particularly spectacular rush in the second period when he carried the puck from his own zone and split Montreal's defense before getting off a shot Canadiens goalie Carey Price was able to stop.

If he continues making efforts like that it won't be long before his offensive output begins to creep back up.

"I don't think anybody's worried about Sid," forward Max Talbot said.

Nor, for that matter, are many of the Penguins fretting over the team's inability to score as often as expected. They are averaging 2.67 goals per game, down about a half-goal from last season.

"That's the last thing everyone's worried about," forward Jordan Staal said. "We know the puck's going to go in sooner or later."

While the Penguins clearly have not been as opportunistic as they were for much of 2006-07, it is far too early to write off their offense. They are averaging a little more than 30 shots per game and have created a reasonable number of scoring chances but haven't capitalized on as many as usual.

"We're three games in," Crosby said. "It's really early. We had a few chances [Wednesday] that we didn't put in. If we put a couple of those in, our average is higher and we're not talking about it."

Winger Petr Sykora, who scored twice against Anaheim, is the only Penguin with more than one goal. Crosby, Staal, Erik Christensen and Gary Roberts -- a group that combined to score 90 in 240 man-games with the Penguins last season -- do not have any among them.

"We have a lot of guys who can score," Crosby said. "That's how it goes sometimes. You don't want to go through those [stretches], but that's hockey.

"I know there are high expectations and everyone has their opinions, but if you want to be realistic, there are ups and downs to every season. Nothing goes perfectly.

"Right now, we're battling to score, but no one said it's going to be easy. We have to find a way."

Coach Michel Therrien, in an effort to jump-start his offense, has reconfigured his lines in almost every conceivable way, shy of grafting backup goalie Dany Sabourin onto Crosby's left wing.

Constant line-juggling can be disconcerting for some players, but Talbot contends "the guys are used to it" and that no one should overreact to the staggering start.

"We can't be too worried," he said. "It's three games. For sure, we could push the [panic] button and start screaming at each other, but now is not the time.

"You know what? It's going to come. We definitely have to play with more desperation, and have to do the little things, but we can't be worried and start pushing [the panic] button. Now's the time to play the way we can."

Starting slump

Dave Molinari can be reached at .


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