Molinari on the Penguins: Before Monday night, when was Crosby's previous winning goal?
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That really was a remarkable goal Sidney Crosby scored during overtime in Buffalo Monday.
Not because it allowed the Penguins to win a game they trailed after two periods, since they already had done that seven other times this season. (In fact, the Penguins entered this weekend with more victories in games in which they were behind after 40 minutes (eight) than when they led at that point (seven).
And not because of the hand-eye coordination required for Crosby to use the shaft of his stick to deflect the puck out of the air and behind Sabres goalie Ryan Miller; Crosby has done enough things like that in his three-plus seasons that it's easy to almost shrug off such feats.
No, the really incredible thing about Crosby's goal was that it was a game-winner, something he hadn't gotten in any of the previous 32 games this season.
And something teammate Evgeni Malkin -- the only guy ahead of Crosby in the NHL scoring race as the weekend began -- had done exactly once during the same span.
And so the Penguins came out of the holiday break with Crosby and Malkin, who had combined for 29 goals, accounting for a total of two of the team's 18 game-winners. That meant Malkin and Crosby had, together, produced as many game-winners as such luminaries as Kyle Quincey, Curtis Glencross, Brandon Crombeen and Johnny Oduya had on their own.
While that doesn't quite rival what might be the most stunning statistic of all time -- Penguins center Mike Bullard scoring 51 goals in 1983-84 without having a single winner -- its' pretty remarkable for two guys who have earned reputations for elevating their games in high-stakes situations.
Perhaps they could ask for a few pointers from teammates Tyler Kennedy, Ruslan Fedotenko and Miroslav Satan, all of whom have single-handedly matched the total of game-winners earned by Crosby and Malkin together, or better yet, Petr Sykora. Five of his first 12 goals were game-winners.
Mind you, Crosby and Malkin are on the short list of the world's greatest players -- they make up a pretty significant portion of that list, actually -- and while their game-winning goal totals are a bit meager to this point, they do have an outside shot at a pretty breathtaking achievement: Becoming the first teammates in league history to ring up 100 assists in the same season.
Only three players in NHL history -- Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux and Bobby Orr -- have managed to reach triple-digits. Gretzky did it 11 times, Lemieux and Orr once each.
It has not been done since 1990-91, when Gretzky had 122 while playing in Los Angeles. For perspective, that's the season when the Penguins won the first of their Stanley Cups.
Malkin came out of the holiday break with 43 assists in 34 games, which projects to 104 over an 82-game season and would be the 12th-most in league history.
Crosby, who had a career-high 84 assists in 2006-07, entered the weekend with 33, which put him on a pace to get 80.
The odds against Crosby making it to 100 are pretty steep, especially since management hasn't come up with a winger who can fully exploit his playmaking talents. Then again, the odds on Crosby going nearly half a season with just one game-winner probably weren't so good, either.
Steve McKenna never got 100 of anything in his eight winters in the NHL -- aside from penalty minutes and belly laughs from teammates -- but he was one of the more memorable characters to pass through the Penguins' locker room in the past decade or so.
McKenna was hard to miss because of his size (6 feet 8, 255 pounds), and his personality was even bigger.
So was his sense of adventure, which explains why he didn't give up the game when he couldn't find work in North America after the Penguins released him in 2004.
McKenna played in England during the winter of 2004-05, when the NHL was shut down by a lockout, then embarked on a professional trek that has taken him to places where the game barely qualifies as an afterthought.
In addition to Italy, where quite a few former NHLers have gone to extend their careers, McKenna has played in Australia, Korea and these days in Shanghai, where he labors for the greater glory of the China Sharks.
And presumably is keeping his teammates highly entertained, even if they don't understand a syllable of what he's saying.
First Published December 28, 2008 12:00 am