Crosby still has more to prove in 2nd season

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Sidney Crosby isn't a guy who takes success for granted, which is part of the reason he has so much of it.

He plays hard and trains harder, makes a 12-month commitment to his profession.

Combine that work ethic with extraordinary talent, and it's easy to understand why Crosby wasn't one of the guys worried about retaining his place in the Penguins' lineup when management and the coaching staff met yesterday to settle on the regular-season roster.

And hey, if piling up 102 points as an 18-year-old -- then following that with a superb showing in training camp -- doesn't translate to a little job security, what would?

That Crosby will play in the NHL this season is, or course, a given. Whether he'll be as productive as he was during his first year in the league isn't quite as certain, at least among those who subscribe to the idea of a sophomore jinx.

They contend that, for any number of reasons, even the most gifted players are pretty much doomed to sputter, if not regress, during their second season.

And while plenty of players in all sports have done that for years, Crosby and people with whom he works seem convinced there's very little danger of that happening to him.

"Absolutely not," coach Michel Therrien said. "He's a special player. He wants more than [he did] last year. Some players have a tendency, especially after they have a good year, [to think] that maybe things are going to be easier.

"But a guy like Crosby, he doesn't have that personality. He wants to be better than last year. He's working harder than last year. He's working on details, like faceoffs. All the little things that are going to make him a better player. That's why I'm not worried."

Right winger Mark Recchi shares Therrien's perspective on Crosby, but expresses it a bit more succinctly: "He's too good."

Crosby, meanwhile, doesn't buy into the idea of a sophomore jinx, but recognizes that every player is susceptible to having bad years. Which is why he is so proactive about trying to reduce the chances of that.

"I don't think that has anything to do with it being your second year, or anything like that," he said. "Everyone always runs into tough years. If it happens to fall in your second year, that's the way it is.

"Every year I've played, whether it's your first year or your second, you have to approach it the same way. You have to come with the attitude that you have to prove yourself year after year. That's my attitude coming in this year."

That mind-set has helped Crosby, already one of the top young players in the world, to upgrade almost every facet of his game since last season.

"He's stronger, he's faster and he understands the game without the puck better than he did," Therrien said.

His offensive skills and instincts haven't suffered any, either. He was the Penguins' leading scorer in the preseason, accumulating two goals and seven assists despite appearing in just four of their seven games.

Crosby's 102 points last season set a franchise record for rookies -- no small feat, considering that guys such as Mario Lemieux and Jaromir Jagr broke into the league here -- and provide the most tangible evidence of his impact.

He is adamant, though, that he does not measure his contribution with statistics, and that the success of his second season will not be determined by goals and assists. Indeed, he does not set statistical objectives when entering a season.

"I've always been better at producing when I just worry about working hard," he said. "I think that's natural. If you're an offensive player and do your job, the goals and assists will come. It's important just to make sure I'm trying to compete every night, and that I'm contributing."

Recchi seconded that assessment, and added that Crosby's season should be evaluated on the basis of "him growing as a player and growing into the leader he's going to be on this hockey club."

Crosby does, however, have at least one concrete objective for 2006-07: Helping the Penguins qualify for postseason play for the first time since 2001.

"That's something I've put my mind to, set my attitude on making the playoffs," he said. "I'm going to do everything I can to contribute to doing that."

NOTES -- Goalie Marc-Andre Fleury had his best showing of the preseason in a 4-2 loss in Buffalo Saturday, when he stopped 25 of 28 shots and gave himself a badly needed confidence boost. "I felt better out there," Fleury said. ... Therrien described himself as "really satisfied" with what the Penguins accomplished during training camp. ... General manager Ray Shero said he has a timetable for Evgeni Malkin's return from a dislocated left shoulder "in the back of my mind, but I don't want to hold anyone to it." He hopes to have more definitive word on how long Malkin will be out sometime this week. ... The Mario Lemieux Foundation is having an online auction to benefit cancer and neonatal research. It features sports memorabilia and will run through Oct. 17 at www.mariolemieux.org.

Peter Diana, Post-Gazette
The Penguins' Sidney Crosby skates against the Islanders at Mellon Arena last season.
Click photo for larger image.

Dave Molinari can be reached at DWMolinari@Yahoo.com .


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