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Sid's surge creates talk of 50-goal season

NHL.com @NHL

PITTSBURGH (AP) -Sid the Kid looked like a pee wee player goofing off with his buddies on a frozen pond.

Sidney Crosby dangled the puck on his stick and skated this way and that, with two or three teammates frantically trying to take it from their captain. Most times, they didn't.

Other times during the Pittsburgh Penguins' off-day workout Monday, Crosby practiced what looked to be gimmick shots, from bad angles, while on a knee or spinning. The kind of shots most players put it once or twice a season.

Or the kind Crosby put in twice against New Jersey on Saturday, one on a no-look backhander and another as he swatted at the puck while sliding on his stomach. The kind of shots that others may practice out of silliness, but Crosby works on in total seriousness.

"To me, it's important to keep practicing those things - it's easy to get rusty if you don't," Crosby said Monday. "I try to make an effort to work on those things, for sure."

Crosby's devotion to polishing a skill that most NHL players don't possess, the art of the trick shot, is only a tiny reason he is surging up the NHL scoring list. It also illustrates the attention to detail of a player who is only 21, yet keeps getting better.

For a playmaker who's supposedly not a pure goal scorer, Crosby is looking a lot like Wayne Gretzky these days. He has five goals in two games and six goals and nine points in three games, a burst that moved him into second place behind teammate Evgeni Malkin in the NHL scoring race.

Malkin (39 points in 23 games) and Crosby (34 points) are attempting to become only the third duo from the same team to finish atop the league during the last 20 years.

The last two also played for Pittsburgh: Mario Lemieux-Kevin Stevens in 1991-92 and Lemieux-Jaromir Jagr in 1995-96.

"We try to make some plays the other teams don't expect," Crosby said. "It's hard to focus on one of us when both of us are out there, so, hopefully, we create some space for each other."

Crosby, the 2006-07 scoring champion, got off to a relatively slow start by his standards - partly because of a hip injury - and had only three goals in his first 14 games. Since then, he has 10 in nine games.

With 13 goals, Crosby is on pace to easily surpass his career high of 39 goals as a rookie in 2005-06. There's even talk he might threaten the 50-goal mark.

"I don't consider myself a sniper, per se," Crosby said, referring to the hockey term for a pure shooter. "I think of the guys that score 50, guys like (Dany) Heatley, (Alex) Ovechkin. But you never know. It depends on the season, the opportunities you get and your ability to capitalize on them."

The Penguins are hoping he'll have another of those games Wednesday when they play the Rangers, who began the week with a five-point lead in the Atlantic Division.

"There's nights when you feel quick and you feel like you're able to make things happen," Crosby said. "There's nights that you definitely kind of get in that zone, for sure. ... It's not every game where everything clicks at the same time and when it does, you try to make the most of it."

Coincidentally or not, Crosby has gotten hot since the Capitals' Alexander Semin called him overrated, a player whose production has never matched his hype.

"What's so special about Sidney Crosby? I don't see anything special there," Semin said last month. "If you take any player, even if he is dead wood, and start promoting him, you'll get a star."

The criticism seemed curious given that Crosby scored more points (102) at a younger age than any player in league history in 2005-06, won the scoring title a season later at 19, then returned from a major ankle injury to lead Pittsburgh to the Stanley Cup finals last season.

Crosby wouldn't say whether Semin's comments motivated him. Maybe he didn't have to.

"I don't think I really have to defend myself with words," Crosby said. "I play the game and play the way I feel I have to, the way I feel is the right way. If that's not up to someone's standards, that's fine. If they feel like they have to have their opinion heard, that's fine, too. But, you know, that's not really the way I go about it."

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