Don't panic -- Crosby's early slump just a blip on the radar screen

Crosby, teammates and coach agree

Sidney Crosby has failed to score a goal during the first four games of a season for the first time since he turned pro.

He is on pace for a 41-point season. Assuming he stays healthy enough to play in all 82 games.

He is part of a five-way tie for third place in the team scoring race. So is, uh, defenseman Brooks Orpik.

Clearly, there are only a few things all of that can mean as the Penguins prepare to face Washington at 7:38 tonight at Mellon Arena:

1. The Penguins are doomed to plummet from contention for anything except a lottery pick in the draft by Halloween.

2. Civilization, as we know it, is about to end.

3. Not much of anything.

Not surprisingly, Crosby believes -- and the men who work with him agree -- that the third one is the obvious answer.

Fact is, while there are many things about which the Penguins can fret, from a sputtering power play to a penchant for surrendering leads, Crosby's modest point production doesn't come close to cracking the list.

"He's due for an explosion here pretty soon," defenseman Mark Eaton said yesterday. "As long as we keep finding ways to win games, I don't think anybody cares who puts up the points, but it's like a time bomb waiting to go off. He's ready to throw up a four- or five-point game here any night."

That surely would ease some of the frustration building up in Crosby but, regardless of how distressed he is about his meager offensive totals, he hasn't allowed it to affect his focus on other aspects of his job.

"For me, it's important that I'm doing everything out there well," he said. "Obviously, scoring and making plays is a big part of my game, but there are other things I have to be responsible for, too. Being strong defensively, faceoffs, getting the odd chance to penalty-kill.

"I can't let not getting as many opportunities or putting up as many points [as usual] affect the rest of my game. I know that if I keep doing the right things, pucks are going to bounce the right way. When you start changing things, that's when you get in trouble."

While Crosby is well off the pace in the NHL scoring race -- he entered last night five points behind Aaron Voros and Brandon Dubinsky of the New York Rangers, who shared the lead with seven each -- he is tied with the guy who succeeded him as the Art Ross Trophy winner.

That, of course, is Alex Ovechkin, the dynamic and wondrously talented Washington left winger, who will enter the game with two goals, but no assists.

Ovechkin's stats suggest that maybe, just maybe, it's a bit early for anyone to suffer an emotional meltdown over Crosby's numbers. Crosby's coach certainly isn't.

"With the skill [he has] and the way Sid plays, it's a matter of time," Michel Therrien said.

He figures the same is true of Crosby meshing with linemates Pascal Dupuis and Miroslav Satan.

Dupuis -- his overtime winner against Philadelphia Tuesday night aside -- does not have the pure offensive ability the Penguins would like in Crosby's linemates, but his hard-working style dovetails nicely with Crosby's. Satan, conversely, has a history of scoring goals, but does not play a particularly gritty game.

While there's no way of knowing whether Crosby, a spectacular playmaker, and Satan, a proven finisher, will jell, Therrien noted that Marian Hossa and Crosby did not instantly develop the exceptional chemistry those two had as the 2008 playoffs progressed.

"Even though Hossa was a great player, it was an adjustment when they started to play together," he said. "You have to give it some time."

Crosby agreed that patience is imperative, and that making major alterations to his game would be counter-productive.

"You start changing things, you go to different spots, and, all of a sudden, the puck starts going to where you used to be and you're in a hole," he said.

So he will count on his work ethic and experience, and the confidence born of all he has accomplished, to get his productivity back to customary levels.

"I practice hard -- I take a lot of pride in that -- and I know that with good practices and if I execute well on the ice, you're going to get rewarded," he said.

Before much longer, if his teammates are to be believed.

"Just a matter of time," Dupuis said. "A matter of time."

Dave Molinari can be reached at . First Published October 16, 2008 4:00 AM


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