The Penguins' Sidney Crosby skates around the Rangers' Marc Staal during a game on Dec. 20 at PPG Paints Arena.
Penguins center Sidney Crosby jokes with teammates during a game at PPG Paints Arena last month. Crosby is leading the league in scoring goals, sparking talk that he is a long shot to score 50 in 50 games.
By Dave Molinari / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Mike Sullivan is a pretty pragmatic guy.
He analyzes. He evaluates. He calculates.
But on rare occasions, Sullivan, who coaches the Penguins, infuses his logic with a little latitude.
Like when pondering the possibility of Sidney Crosby, who leads the NHL with 26 goals, scoring 50 times in his first 50 games this season.
That would entail Crosby getting 24 goals in his next 18 games, a scorching pace that projects to 109 goals over a full season.
Sullivan understands how improbable it would be for any player to go on such a tear.
But he also recognizes the perils inherent in proclaiming that any feat is too much to expect of Crosby.
“There’s nothing that Sid accomplishes that would surprise me, because I think he’s that capable,” Sullivan said. “He’s so talented and he’s so driven that the sky is the limit for him.”
Crosby’s long-shot bid to get 50 goals in his first 50 games took a hit Saturday, when his streak of five consecutive games with a goal ended in a 4-3 overtime victory against Montreal.
An official 50-in-50 requires that a player score those goals in his team’s first 50 games, and that never was a possibility for Crosby, because a concussion forced him to sit out the Penguins’ first six.
But Crosby, who knows his game — and his limitations — better than anyone, believes that scoring 50 in his first 50 games isn’t a realistic objective, either.
“I don’t think it’s possible,” he said. “It’s something that would be great — I’d love to do it — but I think it’s a tall order. I think 50 is tough, let alone 50 in 50.”
That’s a fair point. Washington’s Alex Ovechkin is the only NHL player to get 50 or more in a full season since Penguins center Evgeni Malkin hit that milestone April 7, 2012.
Nonetheless, Crosby, who can appear in a maximum of 76 games in 2016-17, is on pace to finish with 62.
That would be the most by an NHL player since Ovechkin scored 65 in 2007-08, and 11 more than the career-high 51 Crosby got in 2009-10.
It’s worth noting that Crosby’s total hasn’t been padded by empty-net goals; he doesn’t have any, after getting four a season ago.
Even so, he is just 10 goals shy of his 80-game total in 2015-16, a spike in production that isn’t rooted in any major adjustments to his game.
His shot volume is basically the same as in 2015-16 — Crosby is averaging 3.5 per game, up from 3.1 — and his shot selection is largely unchanged, too. The only real difference is in how often goalies are fishing his shots out of their net.
“I feel like I’m shooting the same amount,” Crosby said. “I just feel like it’s been going in.”
That meshes with Sullivan’s observations.
“I don’t see anything drastically different in what he’s doing this year, versus what he’s done in the past,” Sullivan said.
Crosby always has been fearless — he has the injury history to prove it — but has been especially effective in high-traffic areas this season.
“He’s a guy who plays inside,” Sullivan said. “He’s brave. He plays with a lot of courage.
“He’s strong, and he plays inside the dots. He plays in traffic. It’s hard to score in this league if you don’t.”
Crosby suggested that the positive reinforcement of getting goals from those areas can make that success self-perpetuating because he isn’t over-thinking situations on the ice before acting.
“When you go to those spots around the net or you’ve found ways to score, you trust your instincts a little more to keep going back there,” Crosby said. “And fortunately, pucks have been there.”
Even if there won’t quite be enough of them for him to score 50 times in his first 50 games.
Dave Molinari: Dmolinari@Post-Gazette.com and Twitter @MolinariPG.
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