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Starkey: Great 48 for Crosby, Malkin?

| Sunday, Jan. 13, 2013, 12:01 a.m.
ASSOCIATED PRESS
Pittsburgh Penguins' Sidney Crosby, right, skates in on a goalie during a hockey workout on Thursday, Jan. 3, 2013, at the IceoPlex in Canonsburg, Pa. Crosby knows the NHL season, if and when it starts, will be a sprint. That should favor teams like the Penguins, who endured little turnover in the long offseason. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)

Memo to those who see a 48-game NHL season as cheapened or somehow less meaningful than any other:

Lose the asterisk.

Shoot, this is how the NHL should enter America's consciousness every year. Drop in during the NFL playoffs with a streamlined version of that ridiculous 82-game death march.

Surely you aren't going to miss the exhibition games. There is no sporting event on earth — not even the Pro Bowl — less watchable than a preseason hockey game.

Shortened training camp is nice, too, unless you're into contrived “battles” for roster spots (as if they're not decided months earlier).

Did anyone put an asterisk next to the Miami Heat after their NBA title? Of course not. The lockout was forgotten by April.

If it weren't for collateral damage to hard-working folks in and around the arena, I'd sign up for 48 games every year. Lop off five teams, and we'd really be talking.

We are essentially entering the playoffs, and the Penguins appropriately begin where they left off — in the city of Brotherly Shove.

“I didn't go through (the 48-game season in) 1994-95, but we've heard stories about how every game is a playoff game,” said defenseman Brooks Orpik. “Right out of the gate, it should be pretty fun to watch.”

We just have to recalibrate. Adjust the numbers. Base everything on 48. As Tyler Kennedy will tell you, it's really not a bad number.

Gerald Ford wore No. 48 at Michigan.

Jimmy Johnson drives car No. 48.

Ancient peoples counted 48 constellations, it's the smallest number with 10 divisors, and perhaps most famously it was worn by the headless horseman himself, Penguins winger Konstantin Koltsov in 2003.

I half-jokingly asked Sidney Crosby if he could envision scoring 100 points in 48 games. He did, after all, put up 37 in 22 games last season despite a rusty touch. That pace would net him 81 this season.

Crosby paused. “No. What would (a 100-point pace) be?”

It would be 2.083 points per game, and nobody has averaged two or more since Mario Lemieux in 1995-96 (161 points in 70 games).

Any chance?

“No. I don't know. No, that'd be pushing it,” Crosby said, laughing. “I don't like to put a number on points ever, so I'm not going to start this year. But I want to be productive. I know from the start we're going to have to be ready to go. I want to include myself in that.”

With training camps set to open, there is only one semi-sure bet for what should be a wild season: The scoring champion will emerge from the Penguins' dressing room. Doesn't he always? The Penguins have won 14 of the past 24 scoring titles.

The question is whether it'll be Crosby or the guy wearing No. 71.

Crosby chuckled again when I asked if he saw defending scoring champ Evgeni Malkin as his main competition. It was a knowing laugh, one of acknowledgment of Malkin's wondrous skills.

Plus, Malkin arrives with a huge advantage: He has half a season under his belt. He was tearing up the KHL with 65 points (and a robust 58 penalty minutes) in 37 games when the lockout ended.

“He's going to be flying, that's for sure,” Crosby said. “If that's going to push me to get going more, that's fine with me.”

In the 48-game, 1994-95 season, Jaromir Jagr and Eric Lindros tied for the scoring title with 70 points apiece. I'm betting Crosby and Malkin surpass that total, assuming good health.

Either man approaching 100 seems unlikely, but you never know. The last time we saw Sid at the height of his powers was December 2010, a month in which he rode a streak of 35 points in 17 games.

“As long as it keeps going like this, it's great,” he said at the time. “But to do that over 82 games, it's hard to even imagine that.”

No need.

Just imagine 48.

Joe Starkey co-hosts a show 2 to 6 p.m. weekdays on 93.7 “The Fan.” His columns appear Thursdays and Sundays. Reach him at jraystarkey@gmail.com.

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