Penguins Notebook: Lightning's Stamkos bears watching
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When Steven Stamkos began this season by collecting 19 goals and 34 points in his first 19 games, the third-year Tampa Bay Lightning center found himself on magazine covers and the topic of predictions on whether he might score 50 goals in 50 games and debates over whether he was as good as Wayne Gretzky or at least had passed Penguins center Sidney Crosby.
That died down quite a bit as Crosby whistled past Stamkos and now leads the NHL with 65 points. Stamkos was second, nine points behind, going into the Lightning's Southeast Division showdown Tuesday night at Washington.
Nevertheless, Stamkos, who visits Consol Energy Center with Tampa tonight, still seems worthy of a hefty amount of attention.
"Stamkos is a great young talent in the league," Penguins defenseman Paul Martin said Tuesday. "He was putting up a lot of numbers early, and he still is having a great year."
Stamkos had five goals and nine points in his previous five games, and the Lightning was 8-1-1 in its 10 games before meeting the Capitals.
"He's been good about working on different parts of his game, going to the net, down low, finding ways to be effective, in addition to the awesome shot that we know he has [from the left faceoff dot]," Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said. "He didn't go away."
Stamkos, who turns 21 next month, had 31 goals in 39 games, putting him on the heels of Crosby, 23, who has 32 goals in 40 games. Stamkos, who has great chemistry with veteran winger Martin St. Louis, led the NHL with 13 power-play goals.
Still, the idea of the younger star having surpassed Crosby isn't one the Penguins share.
"I don't know why people do that," Martin said. "It's not us [players] making claims and putting people up there. That's just for discussion.
"He's a good player, but to compare him or anyone to Sid is ... maybe you can say there's the possibility of being that good [in the future], but that stuff is all for talk."
Crosby was named the NHL first star of the month Tuesday for the second time in a row. In December, he led all players with 24 points, including 14 goals, and the Penguins were 9-3-1. The final 12 games of his 25-game points streak fell in December.
Vancouver Canucks goaltender Roberto Luongo was the second star; Detroit Red Wings defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom the third star.
Many of the Penguins watched the broadcasts of the semifinals of the world junior championships Monday. The gold-medal game tonight, Canada against Russia in Buffalo, N.Y., is a rematch of the 2005 final when Crosby and Canada trounced Russia and future Penguins forward Evgeni Malkin, 6-1.
"I'm hoping [Wednesday] will be a great day for Russia," Malkin said.
"We haven't discussed it yet, but I'm sure there will be [a friendly wager]," Crosby said.
John Hynes, first-year coach of the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Baby Penguins, is one of two coaches for the American Hockey League's Western Conference All-Stars by virtue of the team's top points percentage in the East. Because Wilkes-Barre's conference rival Hershey won the 2010 Calder Cup, Bears head coach Mark French and assistant coach Troy Mann will guide the Eastern All-Stars. Rosters will be announced later. ... The fourth and final episode of "24/7 Penguins/Capitals: Road to the NHL Winter Classic" debuts on HBO at 10 tonight, followed immediately by an encore presentation.
First Published January 5, 2011 12:00 am