Penguins' goal is to score minus Crosby
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Sidney Crosby spent the first 41 games of this season showing why he is the NHL's most valuable player.
His teammates have done an even better job of that in the past two.
It is not so much that they're 0-1-1 since Crosby was diagnosed with a concussion; it's that, after averaging 3.29 goals per game with him in the lineup, they've averaged 0.5 per game without him.
Now, it is a little premature to label that a trend, let alone a crisis, and that number would rise significantly if the Penguins generate a handful of goals when they face Boston at 7:38 p.m. today at Consol Energy Center.
- Matchup: Boston Bruins at Penguins, 7:38 p.m. today, Consol Energy Center.
- TV/Radio: Versus, WXDX-FM (105.9).
- Probable goaltenders: Marc-Andre Fleury for Penguins. Tim Thomas for Bruins.
- Penguins: Are in danger of going three consecutive games without a victory for just second time this season. ... D Paul Martin does not have point in seven games. ... Have gone 10-3 when being outshot.
- Bruins: Have gone 4-1-3 in past eight games. ... C Patrice Bergeron has five goals, seven assists in past 11 games. ... Power play has two goals in past 20 tries.
- Hidden stat: Four of Boston RW Mark Recchi's seven goals have been game-winners.
Trouble is, calculating the impact a good offensive game would have on their statistics would be the easy part. Figuring out how to make that happen is the challenge.
"He's the top scorer in the league," center Jordan Staal said. "So obviously, it's a big hole when you lose a player like that."
The no-brainer choice to fill at least part of that void is Evgeni Malkin, whose resume includes an NHL scoring championship. He has a documented ability to take control of games, and has done some of his finest work when Crosby has been unable to play.
Malkin, though, has just 34 points in 38 games, and has been impeded by a knee injury that forced him to sit out four games in December. What's more, he, winger Chris Conner and defenseman Brooks Orpik missed practice Sunday because of illness, and their availability for the Penguins' game against Boston is uncertain.
Regardless of whether Malkin plays against the Bruins, the Penguins figure to put a renewed emphasis on operating in the high-traffic areas where the welts and bruises and scoring chances are.
"Right now, I don't think we're playing on the perimeter, but we could get to the middle more, the dangerous areas," center Mark Letestu said. "That's something Sid does on a regular basis, and it's something we can take from his game."
While that might take a fresh commitment from the Penguins, it won't require a significant adjustment to their game, because playing that way is a tenet of Dan Bylsma's coaching philosophy.
"We play that way with Sid in the lineup, too, but the importance of playing that way should be a little higher [when he's out]," he said. "It should almost be like a playoff importance of, 'Hey, we have to grind it out, force teams to break by the way we play and get in there.'
"[Saturday] night, we didn't have that ability execution-wise, mentality-wise to have that grind-out type of game against a team that was playing pretty well."
The Penguins didn't have the ability to do much of anything offensively in a 4-0 loss Saturday to Minnesota at Consol Energy Center. They struggled to get through the neutral zone, especially in the first two periods, and when they did make it into the Wild's end, rarely forced Jose Theodore to make a quality save en route to becoming the first goaltender to record a shutout in the Penguins' new home.
"They pretty much won every battle in the neutral zone, offensive zone, defensive zone," defenseman Kris Letang said. "They were better than us."
Minnesota consistently thwarted the Penguins at center ice, and Bruins coach Claude Julien's teams generally are effective in that part of the rink, too. That's something Bylsma and his staff took into account Sunday when planning practice.
"A couple of the drills were specific, tailored for what we're going to see [tonight] in the neutral zone from Boston," Bylsma said.
It doesn't help that they again will be without Crosby. He isn't just the Penguins' most lethal offensive weapon; he's their best trap-buster.
"There's not much better than him," Bylsma said.
The Penguins certainly don't have anyone, except possibly Malkin, who can dream of producing goals the way Crosby does. Even so, they have a few guys who could chip in a bit more offense than they have been.
Staal doesn't have a goal in four games since returning from a foot infection and broken hand. Max Talbot hasn't scored in 17. Tyler Kennedy has one in 15. And that's just a sampling.
"We have a lot of talent in the room," goalie Marc-Andre Fleury said. "We can get some goals."
Enough, they hope, to at least tread water until Crosby recovers from his concussion.
"It's obviously not the same team without him," Staal said. "But we still have a good enough team to put up some numbers and win some games without him."
First Published January 10, 2011 12:00 am