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Crosby leads Penguins to 7th straight win

| Saturday, Dec. 21, 2013, 3:42 p.m.

James Neal, a former 40-goal scorer, knows something about shots.

He saw — but barely believed — the shot Penguins captain Sidney Crosby scored on in a 4-3 win over Calgary at Consol Energy Center on Saturday afternoon.

“I don't know how he shoots with that (flat) stick he uses, but with his speed and the power he creates — he's so strong,” Neal said, referring to the slap shot that Crosby buried top-right corner against Flames goalie Karri Rammo during the Penguins' two-goal second period.

“He makes a little inside-out move there. I've seen that move in practice 100 times. I think only (Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury) maybe knows he's going to go there, but it's just a great shot.”

Fleury, who stopped 27 shots from the Flames for his NHL-best 21st victory, said he was not sure of Crosby's shot location upon seeing him enter the offensive zone with speed and wind up from the left side.

He did know the shot was headed where Crosby had aimed.

“He doesn't take slap shots too often going down the wing,” Fleury said of Crosby, whom he has faced in practices for nine seasons. “But it's going to go in. It's always pretty accurate.”

Crosby used the slap shot often on his way to 32 goals in 41 games before his 2010-11 season was lost to concussion symptoms.

He said Saturday afternoon that anymore there is not often enough free time or open space to make use of that particular shot. Fleury noted Crosby's “quick release” is mostly seen these days on a wrist shot, and Neal marveled at the backhand Crosby makes use of frequently to pass and shoot.

Whatever his shot selection, Crosby — if healthy — is moving along at one of his more impressive scoring paces.

With 54 points in 38 games he is on pace for 117. He is averaging 1.42 points per-game in a season with a 5.44 goals-per-game average that is the NHL's lowest since 2003-04 — before rules were adjusted to improve offense.

Crosby's career-best season is 120 points, when he averaged 1.52 and the league averaged 5.90 goals.

Crosby's 20th goal was one of three points against Calgary, and it proved the signature moment of a four-game stretch during which he made his strongest case as MVP frontrunner.

The Penguins, without six or seven regulars in each of the last five games, have won them all, and Crosby produced two goals and eight points while racking three multiple-point contests.

Coach Dan Bylsma said, after the Penguins' seventh consecutive victory, that Crosby has not mentioned feeling as though he needed to elevate his performance in the wake of injuries to fellow franchise center Evgeni Malkin and all top-four defensemen, but…

“There's no question he's been that (MVP) for our team,” Bylsma said. “I don't think anyone in that room thinks, ‘Oh, I have to do more, it has to come from us.'

“But there's no question in the elevated play from that line.”

Crosby and wingers Chris Kunitz and Pascal Dupuis have scored six of the Penguins' 15 goals in the last four games without Malkin, who was tied for third in NHL scoring at 41 points as of Saturday.

That line has combined for 19 points over that span.

Dupuis (seventh goal), winger Harry Zolnierczyk (first) and defenseman Matt Niskanen (third) also scored for the Penguins against Calgary, which ultimately pulled within a goal after falling behind, 4-1.

Fleury made 12 of 13 saves in the final period to preserve this win, the team's 10th straight at home.

Crosby, though, tied the bow on this final home game before Christmas with his blast.

“I don't know how to explain what he did there,” center Brandon Sutter said. “I don't even understand how he made a move against the grain the way he did there. We were kind of laughing about that on the bench.

“Just an unbelievable move and an unbelievable shot. Most guys would have just pushed the puck forward there and then you go get it.

“Not him.”

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