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Crosby on the best roll of his career

by John Kreiser
Sidney Crosby enters the week with a 17-game points streak, the longest in the NHL this season and the second-longest of his career. But while he hasn't quite reached the 19-game streak he had in 2007-08, his current run already is more productive.

Crosby had 30 points in 19 games three seasons ago, the third-longest points streak since 2005 (Dany Heatley's 22-gamer for Ottawa in 2005-06 is the longest). He has 35 points (20 goals, 15 assists) during his 17-game streak this season. Crosby is the first player to get 20 goals in 17 games since Alex Ovechkin did it midway through the 2007-08 season -- when Ovi finished with 65 goals.

Crosby has more than one point in 12 of the 17 games during the streak, including a two-goal performance in Pittsburgh's 5-2 victory against Toronto on Wednesday. Those goals were his seventh and eighth goals in four games, and he now has 11 in his last six. For perspective, only 25 players in the entire League have more than 11 goals in the first nine weeks of the season.

Not surprisingly, Crosby leads the NHL with 26 goals and 50 points; he's 5 goals and 10 points ahead of Tampa Bay's Steven Stamkos, the only other player in the NHL with as many as 20 goals and 40 points -- no one else has more than 18 goals or 35 points. Crosby is on pace to become the first player since Alexander Mogilny and Teemu Selanne both had 76 goals in 1992-93 to reach the 70-goal mark, and his 50 points in 30 games have him on a pace for 137 for the season -- a total no player has reached since Mario Lemieux (161) and Jaromir Jagr (149) in 1995-96.

400 and counting -- Crosby celebrated his 400th NHL game Monday by scoring a goal and setting up the other one as Pittsburgh beat New Jersey, 2-1. The pair of points gave him 554, the most through 400 games by any player currently active in the NHL. Alex Ovechkin, who reached 400 games faster than Crosby because Sid missed 28 games with injuries in 2007-08, had 536 in his first 400 games. Selanne, aided by those 76 goals as a rookie, had 525 through 400 games -- he's the only other active player who had 500 or more points in their first 400 NHL games.

More than Sid -- Crosby has been the driving force behind Pittsburgh's 11-game winning streak; since 2005, only Washington (14 games last season) has had a longer one. Although he's had 14 goals of the Penguins' 37 non-shootout goals (no other Penguin has more than 3) and 22 points during the streak, he's been far from the only contributor.

The biggest change from earlier in the season hasn't been the brilliance of Crosby but the play of goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury. After starting the season with six losses in his first seven games and being knocked out early in Game No. 8, Fleury has completely turned his season around. He's 12-0-1 in his last 13 games and 10-0-0 during the 11-game streak. He's allowed just 16 goals during that span, posting a 1.59 goals-against average and a .945 save percentage.

In all, the Penguins have allowed just 17 goals during the winning streak and surrendered two or fewer in the last nine games.

Bye-Bye Billy -- As Crosby reaches new heights at age 23, one of his former linemates said goodbye to the NHL.

Bill Guerin called six cities home for a full NHL season (he split 2006-07 between St. Louis and San Jose), and never failed to deliver at least one 20-goal season in every one -- including Pittsburgh, where he helped the Penguins win a Stanley Cup in 2009 and had 21 goals last season. Guerin, who turned 40 last month, announced his retirement this week and will go down as the first (and so far, the only) player to post a 20-goal season with seven teams.

Fishing for a comeback -- The San Jose Sharks couldn't have felt very confident when they fell behind 4-1 at Philadelphia on Wednesday -- the franchise never had won a game when trailing by three goals in the third period, and the Flyers had gone more than 23 years without losing when they led by three goals in the final 20 minutes. But San Jose scored three times to force a shootout and then scored on both tries in the tiebreaker for a 5-4 victory.

It was just the fourth time this season that a team has overcome a three-goal deficit to win, but the second time in a week that a team has won after being down three in the third period -- Toronto was down 4-1 at Washington on Sunday but rallied for a 5-4 shootout win. The Leafs have two of the four wins by teams rallying from three goals; they also spotted Nashville a 4-1 lead before rallying for a 5-4 win Nov. 16. That was the only one of the four that came in regulation; the other three went to shootouts.

Shooting star -- It's been a great season for players taking penalty shots -- they're now 13-for-24 (54.2 percent) after going just 16-for-55 (29.1 percent) last season and not converting more than 39 percent in the last six-plus seasons.

The 13 penalty-shot goals have been scored by 12 players -- Frans Nielsen of the New York Islanders became the first player since Erik Cole five seasons ago to get two in a season when he scored against Boston's Tuukka Rask on Thursday. Both of Nielsen's penalty-shot goals have come shorthanded -- matching his career total of shorthanded goals prior to this season.

While Nielsen is 2-for-2 on penalty shots this season, he's 0-for-2 on shootout attempts -- after entering the season with 11 goals in 19 shootout tries.
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