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Crosby has turned into a shootout star

by John Kreiser
Like many of the NHL's top offensive players, Sidney Crosby never has been especially good at shootouts -- he entered this season just 12-for-38, a 31.6-percent success rate that's below the League average of just over 33 percent. But Crosby must have made some adjustments during the offseason, because the Penguins' captain has turned into the League's top shootout sharpshooter so far this season.

Crosby is a League-leading 4-for-4 through the season's first five weeks, and is one of only two players in the League with more than one game-deciding goal (he has two). He's always been good at making his goals count: Crosby now has 11 deciding goals in his career, tying him with Ales Kotalik and Slava Kozlov for the most since the NHL adopted the breakaway competition to decide tied games in 2005.

Crosby's shootout prowess was a key to the Penguins' record-tying 11 victories in October. Pittsburgh is the fifth team to win 11 times in the season's first month, joining the 1982 Islanders, the 1990 Rangers and the 2001 and '05 Red Wings. The '82 Islanders and '01 Wings parlayed their fast starts into Stanley Cups.

Star gazing -- In contrast to Crosby, the Dallas Stars have gone from heroes to zeroes in the shootout.

The Stars were the stars of the shootout in 2005-06, when the breakaway competition was introduced to settle games that were tied after overtime. Dallas went 12-1 in shootouts, a .923 winning percentage that's still the best of any team over a full season.

Dallas fared well in shootouts for the next two seasons, going 9-4 in 2006-07 and 5-3 in 2007-08. The Stars dropped to 6-6 last season -- but they'll have to work to get back to the break-even point in 2009-10 after losing their first four shootouts, the poorest showing by any team. Dallas has scored just once in 13 attempts while allowing opposition shooters to score six times in 12 tries.

Shooting Ducks -- Phoenix goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov isn't especially good in shootouts -- he's 9-12 in his career, with a .618 save percentage -- but he might be a lot better if he could get some more opportunities against the Anaheim Ducks. Last Saturday's 3-2 win against Anaheim was his 16th appearance in a shootout since going from the Ducks to the Coyotes on waivers nearly three years ago. Seven of those have come against his former team, and he's won five of those. In all of his other career shootouts, he's 4-10.

Join the club -- Maurice Richard, Jean Beliveau and Guy Lafleur are among the most famous members of the "club" -- the 450 skaters who have scored at least one goal for the Montreal Canadiens. Hal Gill is the newest. Gill, a defensive defenseman who signed with the Canadiens this past summer, became No. 450 when he scored against Toronto on Saturday night. He's one of 66 skaters with exactly one goal for the Canadiens -- plus goaltender Jose Theodore, who scored into an empty net in 2001.

Two nights later, 22-year-old defenseman Mathieu Carle became the 723rd player to suit up for the Canadiens in their 100-year history. Carle had no points, a minor penalty and was plus-1 in Montreal's 5-4 loss to Atlanta. Ryan White and Tom Pyatt became Nos. 724 and 725 when they made their NHL debuts Thursday.

Payback time -- It never will ease the pain of watching someone else skate around with the Stanley Cup, but the Vancouver Canucks have dominated the New York Rangers in the 15 years since losing Game 7 of the 1994 Final. Tuesday's 4-1 victory over the Rangers was the Canucks' 12th victory in the 17 games between the teams since that fateful June night, including nine of the last 10. The Rangers lost six in a row at Vancouver, where they haven't won since Nov. 25, 1997.

Home cooking -- Think Henrik Lundqvist likes playing at Madison Square Garden? His 1-0 victory against Boston Sunday was the New York Rangers netminder's 21st career shutout -- 18 of which have come at the Garden. Only Hall of Famer Ed Giacomin (29) has had more shutouts at the current Garden, which opened in February, 1968. The difference between the two: Giacomin had another 20 shutouts on the road while with the Rangers; Lundqvist has three.

High five --
Allowing five goals isn't going to get you many victories in the NHL -- after all, this isn't the run-and-gun 1980s. But don't tell that to Florida Panthers goaltender Scott Clemmensen, who has a knack for getting a "W" in games where he might not be at his best.

Clemmensen allowed five goals to Dallas on Oct. 30 but got the win when the Florida Panthers beat the Stars 6-5 in a shootout. Amazingly, it was the fourth time in as many games over the past two seasons that Clemmensen has allowed five goals and gotten the win (he hasn't allowed more than four goals in a loss). Clemmensen went 25-13-1 for New Jersey last season after Martin Brodeur went down with an injury -- and among those 25 wins were 6-5 victories against San Jose and Washington and an 8-5 triumph against the New York Rangers.

Clemmensen's last game before Brodeur's return came Feb. 21, and just two weeks later, the NHL's winningest goaltender did something his understudy didn't -- allow more than five goals in a game. Brodeur allowed six (plus an empty-netter) to the Islanders on March 7, and then was beaten six times by Pittsburgh in a 6-1 loss April 1.
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