PENGUINS 4, AVALANCHE 1
The Trib’s Terrific Trio:
1 – C SIDNEY CROSBY
Key stats: 2 goals, 3 points, 13 for 23 face-offs
Rossi: Mark down Dec. 15, a home game against the Flyers. On Dec. 13, 2006, Crosby took the NHL scoring lead with six points against the Flyers at home. He never lost that advantage and won his only scoring title. With 19 points in 11 games, it’s safe to say he’s charging again.
2 – C EVGENI MALKIN
Key stats: 3 assists, 7 attempted shots
Rossi: Probably the easiest three points Malkin has racked in a couple of years. Still, while Crosby deserves a hefty share of praise, Malkin had quietly stormed to 14 points in 10 games since missing seven straight with a strained right shoulder.
3 – C JORDAN STAAL
Key stats: 1 goal, 2 points, 5 attempted shots
Rossi: Make it three goals and 11 points in 10 games for a center that on any other team people would notice a lot more. Staal is on pace for 20 goals and 48 points, just about his numbers from last season; but anybody paying attention can see he is better right now than at any point in his four NHL seasons.
SAY IT, SIR
“I was thinking shot. I still had my head up, saw Billy getting position off to the side. I had my eye on him a little bit, and he did a good job finishing the play.”
— Crosby, on the sequence that set up RW BILL GUERIN’S winning power-play goal in the third period
Rossi: Guerin’s past 10 games: 4 goals, 8 points, and a noticeable hop in his stride. He’s also on pace for 20 goals, which seems just about right.
ON THE BEAT ROAD: JORDAN STAAL
I’ve spent many hours working my Canadian colleagues on behalf of Staal, who I sincerely believe is deserving of a spot on his country’s Olympic squad. Yeah, yeah, yeah; Canada is stacked down the middle, but is any player from that country better suited than Staal to go against top forwards in the third period of close games?
No would be the answer for which you’re looking.
On any other team Staal would be drawing praise as a force. He’s on pace to score 20 goals for the third time in four seasons, and he’s only 21. However, because he plays on a Penguins squad with Crosby and Malkin — players that may finish 1-2 in scoring after all — Staal is held to a higher standard.
One of the best things about him is that he accepts that burden of expectation.
The best thing about him, though, is a dark comic side that few outside the Penguins dressing room get a chance to see.
Take a few weeks ago, when I jokingly said to him that good friend TYLER KENNEDY was “giving better answers to questions, and he isn’t even talking.”
“Well, that’s my plan with you,” Staal told me. “We can get to the point that you don’t even want to talk to me, and then I won’t have to look at you all the time.”
A lot of players would have walked away smiling. Staal just walked, and only later jabbed me on the shoulder in a “just kidding” manner.
After the A.M. skate before this game, Staal was untying his laces when he overheard a horde of reporters asking Crosby about shooting more this season. I overheard the same line of questioning and jokingly asked Staal, “What do you think about him shooting more?”
“Well, that’s tough,” he said. “I mean, personally, I’m trying to shoot less. Who wants to score goals, anyway?”
Staal shook his head in mock disbelief upon finishing that sentence.
“Of course he’s scoring more goals because he’s shooting more,” he said of Crosby as only I listened. “That’s how you score more goals – by shooting more. Come on!”
More than any Penguins player, I am eager to watch Staal grow into manhood over the next few seasons. Not only do I believe he will become a dominant two-way force, but I predict I’ll enjoy random chats with him more than any player not named MARC-ANDRE FLEURY – though I’ll surely leave those chats emotionally battered as Staal sharpens his wit.
— BY ROB ROSSI (12/3/2009)
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