Postgame thoughts from the ATL, and some astonishing Crosby number crunching.


Some quick-hit thoughts after the Penguins’ 4-2 victory at Atlanta on Saturday:

= Dear readers paying close attention to G MARC-ANDRE FLEURY will notice that he has stopped using the poke check, which he was relying on too much early in the season. Goaltending coach GILLES MELOCHE spent the past couple of weeks working with Fleury on trusting his in-crease ability to “play big,” with the hope being he wouldn’t skate himself out of position by being too aggressive. When Fleury is at his worst, which he was at the start of the season, he is too far out of the net. There is a fine line between challenging and straying, and Fleury is now skating on it – that’s a good thing. He was shutout-good in this game.

By the way, check out my final game story for his joke about when the media chooses to speak with him. Say what you must, but the guy has a great way of looking at things.

Also, I can’t stress enough just how impressed I was by the CEC crowd Friday night. To cheer Fleury from the start was no insignificant things. I’m sometimes hard on Penguins fans, but the majority of them “get it,” and that was obvious Friday night.

= D KRIS LETANG took another puck to the right hand against Atlanta. That’s three by my count on the season. He might be one of the better right-handed shooting defensemen in the league, but I’m not sure what will continue to be true if that right hand keeps taking this kind of beating.

= So, some dear readers have chimed in about my USA Today rankings, which didn’t include C SIDNEY CROSBY as one of the NHL’s top five MVP candidates. A couple of things on that: I voted him No. 1 last season and No. 2 the season before on my Hart Trophy ballot, so enough with the “Rossi doesn’t respect Crosby” stuff, eh. Also, Crosby was in the top five on my first USA Today ballot. For MVP, I put a lot of stock into the player’s team’s performance, and the Penguins weren’t performing real well as of Monday when votes were due. I use the same criteria for that voting as I do the Hart Trophy – “player adjudged to be most valuable to his team.” Were the USA Today vote about the top five players in the NHL, Crosby would have topped my list. He is, without question to this reporter, the best player in hockey. That doesn’t mean he was the MVP as of last Monday.

Anyway, something to think about regarding Crosby: He has scored 62 goals in the past 99 regular-season games. He had 43 goals in the 99 regular-season games prior to that. At the rate of his current run he will have totaled 233 goals by his 450th NHL game. He had 102 goals in his first 225 NHL games.

If Crosby is at 233 goals at 450 NHL games he would be on pace for 517 goals in 1,000 games, a total he would hit before his 30th birthday. Given his conditioning, and with the grace of good health, a run at 800 goals wouldn’t be out of the question.

I’m not sure any great player has totally redefined himself at this early point of his career. Crosby was a playmaker three years ago. These days he’s as good a goal scorer as any player on the planet.

OK, I have a second straight early flight.