Penguins strive to improve balance

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DENVER -- It seemed like a foregone conclusion that Penguins captain Sidney Crosby would start scoring and piling up the points.

He has. His five goals and four assists in the past four games have boosted his point total to 19, tied for second in the NHL through yesterday, a spot befitting the reigning league scoring champion.


Scouting Report
  • Matchup: Penguins at New York Islanders, 7:08 p.m. today, Nassau Coliseum, Uniondale, N.Y.
  • TV, radio: FSN Pittsburgh, WXDX-FM (105.9).
  • Probable goaltenders: Marc-Andre Fleury for Penguins. Rick DiPietro for Islanders.
  • Penguins: Are 1-1 on four-game road trip. ... Sidney Crosby has career-high 11-game point streak (7 goals, 12 assists). ... Crosby last season had 17 points in seven games vs. Islanders, and Mark Recchi had 13 points in eight games.
  • Islanders: Coming off 4-0 win against Buffalo Thursday, DiPietro's 12th career shutout. ... Power play, at 26.1 percent, was second in NHL as of yesterday. ... Miroslav Satan had 10 points in eight games vs. Penguins last year.
  • Hidden stat: With a power-play goal, the Penguins will tie a club record for scoring one in each of their first 12 games.

Crosby, though, is not getting a lot of offensive support outside of Evgeni Malkin, who has had a strong season with 17 points and, in particular, has thrived playing winger on Crosby's line lately. No other forward has scored an even-strength goal the past five games.

Overall, only three other forwards have more than one goal -- winger Petr Sykora with six, four of them on the power play; Maxime Talbot with four, but none in the past seven games; and Ryan Malone with two, but none in the past eight games.

"It's pretty obvious that we need contributions from the rest of the lines," coach Michel Therrien said. "Right now we've got Sid's line performing really well. We don't have much from the rest."

It would probably be prudent to find some balance soon, given that the Penguins' next nine games are against Atlantic Division teams, beginning tonight on the road against the New York Islanders.

"We have to get more goals," winger Adam Hall said. "Obviously, the other teams are going to focus on their line a lot because of how well they're playing."

That doesn't necessarily stop Crosby and Co.

In a 3-2 loss to Colorado Thursday, Crosby scored both Penguins goals while matched most of the night against the Avalanche's top line of center Joe Sakic and wingers Ryan Smyth and Marek Svatos. Crosby, Malkin and their right winger, Malone, still combined for 14 of the Penguins' 28 shots. The other nine forwards combined for 10 shots.

"You want to contribute. Everyone wants to," winger Colby Armstrong said. "We need to put a little more pressure on ourselves to get it done. They can't be doing it all the time. It's tough to win games when you only have one line doing it."

Armstrong and Hall are among six forwards who have one goal apiece. The other four are Mark Recchi, Gary Roberts, Jordan Staal and Erik Christensen. Another three -- Jarkko Ruutu, Georges Laraque and Adam Kennedy -- have yet to score, but have seen limited ice time for various reasons.

Among the six one-goal forwards, Recchi has more than 500 career goals, Roberts more than 400. Staal had 29 last year as one of the top rookies in the NHL, and Christensen had 18 goals in 61 games.

A couple of the team's defenseman have helped fill the gap.

Sergei Gonchar has two goals, nine assists to rank fourth among defensemen with 11 points, one behind a three-way tie for the lead. Ryan Whitney has three goals, all on the power play, and three assists, but he is wrestling with a groin injury.

"Everybody's contributing in different ways," said defensive defenseman Mark Eaton, who picked up his first point, an assist, against Colorado.

"We're playing our system. Our forecheck is getting better. I'm sure the scoring depth will come."

Crosby is willing to let his teammates off the hook for now.

"It doesn't matter how we do it," he said. "I'm not concerned because as a line we try to do our best every night, and so does everyone else.

"Some nights [my line] is going to have a tough time finding the net and other lines are going to have to score. We've all got to worry about our own lines and try to do our best."


Shelly Anderson can be reached at shanderson@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1721.


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