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Sid's turned into a shooter -- and a faceoff whiz

by John Kreiser
Getting 30 goals in a season is nothing new for Sidney Crosby -- but getting them this fast is.

Crosby reached the 30-goal mark for the fourth time in his five NHL seasons when he connected in the first period of Pittsburgh's 3-1 victory at Calgary on Wednesday. He did it in the Penguins' 47th game, far faster than in any of his previous 30-goal seasons. Crosby needed 63 games to reach 30 goals in 2005-06, his rookie season; 68 games in 2006-07 and 72 last season. He was the second player in the League (following San Jose's Patrick Marleau) to reach the 30-goal mark.

One reason for Crosby's greater goal production is that he's shooting more. He's taken 185 shots through 48 games, a pace that would give him a career-high 316 -- far more than his career-best of 278 in 2005-06. He's also shooting more accurately; his 16.5 percentage is a career best.

Quick draw -- That Crosby can score goals is no surprise. Something that's more impressive is his improvement in the faceoff circle.

Crosby was an easy mark on draws as a rookie, winning just 45.5 percent in 2005-06. He's improved steadily since then -- to 49.8 percent in 2006-07, 51.4 percent in 2007-08 and 51.3 percent last season. But he's made a major leap so far this season, improving to 57.9 percent (eighth in the NHL), and he leads the League with 609 faceoff wins -- 95 more than runner-up Paul Stastny, the only other player with more than 500.

Firing blanks -- Getting shots on goal isn't a problem for the Toronto Maple Leafs. Getting the puck to go in the net is another issue.

The Leafs have fired 30 or more shots on goal 36 times in their first 48 games -- not surprising for a team that leads the NHL in average shots per game at 34.2. But all those shots aren't translating into victories. Toronto is just 10-17-9 when taking 30 or more shots, and 6-6-0 when taking fewer than 30 shots. The Leafs have taken 30 or more shots in all 10 of the games in which they've gone past 60 minutes -- and lost nine of them.

Even more frustrating (if you're a Leafs fan) are their struggles when they get 40 or more shots. That has happened nine times this season -- and Toronto has lost all nine. The Leafs' 0-5-4 record includes a 61-shot barrage against the Islanders on Nov. 23 in a game they lost 4-3 in overtime.

The most frustrated Leaf might be Phil Kessel, whose 170 shots in the 36 games he's played since returning from a shoulder injury are the most in the NHL in that span and eighth on the season. But he's scored only 14 goals on those 170 shots for an 8.2 shooting percentage -- and is 0-for-40 in his last seven games.

Volume, not quality -- The Chicago Blackhawks offer further proof that simply barraging your opponent with pucks is no guarantee of victory.

Of the five games this season in which a team has outshot its opponent by 30 or more and lost, three belong to the Blackhawks -- including Sunday's 3-1 home loss to Anaheim in which Chicago outshot the Ducks 43-12. The Hawks also outshot Florida 55-24 in their season-opener, a 4-3 shootout loss in Helsinki, and outshot San Jose 47-14 in a 2-1 home loss Dec. 22. The other losses are Toronto's 4-3 OT defeat at the hands of the Islanders on Nov. 23 in which they had a 61-21 advantage, and Ottawa's 3-1 loss to Atlanta on Oct. 31, a game in which the Senators outshot the Thrashers 51-21.

The biggest advantage in a victory belongs to Nashville, which outshot Montreal 55-20 in a 2-0 win on Nov. 14.

A night to remember ... if you're a goalie -- Don't expect much compassion for the Blackhawks and Leafs from the New York Rangers. The Blueshirts had nothing to show for the 51 shots they fired on New Jersey's Martin Brodeur in regulation Tuesday night -- or the four shootout attempts he stopped before Patrik Elias scored against Henrik Lundqvist to give the Devils a 1-0 victory.

The 51 shots were the most Brodeur ever had faced in a game -- regular-season or playoffs. It shattered his previous high for shots faced in a regular-season shutout (40 by Boston on Jan. 28, 1999). The shutout also was the first by Brodeur at Madison Square Garden in 41 regular-season games (he does have one in the playoffs).

Lundqvist made 45 saves and went home with a shutout but not a victory -- thanks to the busiest night in Brodeur's career. His only consolation was being part of the goaltending duo that faced the most shots ever in a goal-less game. The combined total of 96 shots was 21 more than the previous mark, set by Boston and Montreal at the Forum on Dec. 21, 1968, and matched in Montreal's 1-0 shootout win against Florida at the Bell Centre on Nov. 28, 2006.

Lundqvist had another close-but-no-cigar Thursday, when the Rangers came within 1:14 of back-to-back 0-0 games before Ottawa scored with 74 seconds remaining in what turned into a 2-0 victory. It was the second game in a row in which they were blanked by a Brodeur -- this time, it was Senators rookie Mike Brodeur (no relation to Martin), who stopped 32 shots for his first NHL shutout. In two games, Lundqvist stopped 97 of 98 shots -- and went home without a victory.

Save the date -- The Devils-Rangers game marked the third time this season a game went to a shootout without a goal being scored through 65 minutes. If there's a fourth, don't be surprised if it comes Feb. 12 or March 12.

Why? Because each of the first three came on the 12th day of a month. Phoenix beat San Jose 1-0 in a shootout Oct. 12 and Florida topped Boston 1-0 in a shootout Nov. 12 before the Devils beat the Rangers on Jan. 12 (Dec. 12 somehow didn't get the message).

Also, don't be surprised if the visiting team wins -- home teams have lost all three of this season's 1-0 shootouts.

And then there were three -- Carolina's 4-2 win at Toronto on Tuesday was the third in a row for the last-place Hurricanes. That dropped the number of teams without a winning streak of more than two games this season to three -- Dallas, Tampa Bay and Toronto.

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