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Crosby's confidence in his shot is paying off in goals

by Todd Kimberley
Edmonton and Vancouver, consider yourselves forewarned: Sidney Crosby is serving notice that he's all too happy to wind up and let 'er fly these days.

"I'm definitely trying to shoot the puck more," the Penguins' captain told reporters in Calgary prior to his club's 3-1 victory Wednesday against the Flames, in which he scored goal No. 30. "Not carelessly -- but trying to create something off of that. You tend to shoot more when you know you have guys going to the net.

"As an offensive player when you know you've got guys going to the net and driving hard, you're going to shoot more because you know that you'll get opportunities there," added Crosby, who credited a newfound confidence in his shot for his willingness to shoot more.

"I feel like I can score outside a little more than in the past, and that comes with seeing good results . . . any offensive player will tell you that you build confidence the more you see the puck go in, and from different areas as well. You need to have a sense of confidence if you want to score consistently."

With his 30 goals -- one back of San Jose's Patrick Marleau for the league lead — the 22-year-old center is on pace for 52, which would obliterate his personal single-season high of 39, set during 2005-06, his rookie season.

Crosby and the Pens, who went a perfect 3-0 during Sid's only previous tour of Western Canada in December 2007, visit the Oilers in Edmonton on Thursday night and the Canucks in Vancouver -- before a nationwide Hockey Night in Canada audience -- on Saturday.

Expect Crosby to be firing away.

"We had a conversation not too long after our season ended last year," Pittsburgh coach Dan Bylsma said. "He'd already made plans to start working on his shot more, and was focused on that aspect -- thought he could do a better job of shooting the puck.

"I think you see that mind set if you watch his games. He shoots more pucks from areas that aren't Grade 'A' scoring opportunities," added Bylsma. "Before, he would look to pass first, pass second, and shoot when he got in the 10-foot area. Now, he's looking to shoot well outside those areas, looking to shoot for rebounds, looking to shoot through traffic, looking to shoot behind defensemen.

"That's something you didn't see from him before as a player. It makes him more dangerous, as well as the people around him."

Crosby reached the 30-goal mark by scoring the game's first goal Wednesday night. He split the Calgary defense pair of Jay Bouwmeester and Mark Giordano and zeroed in on Miikka Kiprusoff. Even Crosby himself is unsure exactly how the puck went in, but it changed direction and found the top corner to Kiprusoff's blocker side.

"I tried to take the puck to the net . . . I think Kiprusoff got his stick on it," Crosby said after the game. "I don't know. I think it was our sticks coming together, and the puck popping up."

Heading into Thursday's game against the Oilers, Crosby had 182 shots on goal, fourth in the League behind New Jersey's Zach Parise, Washington's Alex Ovechkin and Philadelphia's Jeff Carter.

For the former Hart and Art Ross Trophy winner, that's 3.87 shots a game, compared to 3.09 last season, 3.26 in an injury-abbreviated 2007-08 campaign, 3.16 in '06-07, and 3.43 in '05-06.

He's made this dramatic change while changing his weapon of choice -- no easy task.

"I used a wood blade for a long time, and they don't make it anymore, so I switched to a one-piece. It's still something I'm getting used to, (regarding) the feel . . . when you use wood for that long, it's a little bit of a change," Crosby said. "But it's definitely helped with my shot. I'm much more confident with it."

Bylsma praises Crosby for making the change — and for his captain's process of self-reflection and self-improvement.

"It's a way of living life that people who continue to get better, and get the most out of themselves, have," he said. "You don't see too many great players, great people in their chosen fields, who don't have a similar type of mindset."

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