stuhackel
Thursday December 9th, 2010

As great as Wayne Gretzky was in his prime, his overall offensive impact on the Oilers wasn't as great as Sidney Crosby's has been on the Penguins. (Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

By Stu Hackel

Some days it's a challenge to find something new or different to say about Sidney Crosby, and he isn't helping. We featured him here 10 days ago, but he just keeps plowing through the NHL and everyone, including SI.com's Michael Farber, is justifiably raving about his play.

On Wednesday night, Crosby scored two more goals in Pittsburgh's 5-2 dismantling of the Maple Leafs, who showed their truculence by ineffectively running at him. (He stood up for himself and was not thrown off his game at all.) Then the Leafs got beat and beaten up by Crosby's teammates.

The Penguins -- who are still without Jordan Staal and are also missing Evgeni Malkin -- have now won 11 straight, the second longest such streak in franchise history. Sid the Adult -- c'mon, he's 23 now and has moved out of Mario's basement -- has merely scored 14 goals and added eight assists during that run. He's got a 17-game point streak going, with 20 goals) in those 17 games, which is a whole season's worth for many players. His 35 points during the streak mean he's averaging slightly over two per game.

While that's not quite Gretzky-like or Lemieux-like (during The Great One's prime years with the Oilers, he almost always averaged better than 2.5 -- for a season, not 17 games; Mario was in that range a few times as well), you have to keep in mind that today's game is greatly different, especially with sophisticated defenses and overstuffed goalies. Plus, consider that Gretzky was surrounded by offensively potent Hall of Famers -- Mark Messier, Jari Kurri, Paul Coffey, Glenn Anderson among them -- who also drew the opposition's attention. No one among Crosby's current teammates is in that class (at least not yet) and he's still able to escape checkers and manufacture points. That's very impressive.

Yesterday on The Globe and Mail website, Michael Grange did some good number crunching to compare Gretzky and Crosby. After all, as Grange writes about Gretzky's era, "goals were on sale," which is true when you look at the list of 50-goal scorerss in the '80s and see names like Blaine Stoughton, Wayne Babych, Jacques Richard, Mike Bullard and John Ogrodnick. As my pal Sixto said today, "You have devalue the goals from that time like the Italian lire."

Grange figured out, "In '81-82, Gretzky averaged 2.65 points a game but teams were averaging 4.08 goals a night. The Oilers? Only 5.21 a game; that’s all. So far this season Crosby is averaging 1.66 points a game, but the league average is just 2.8 goals a game and the Penguins are averaging 3.13. Which means, by ratio, Crosby is tearing it up, even compared with what might be the most prolific season in hockey history."

And Grange did some additional computing and figured that because Crosby's team is less prolific than Gretzky's Oilers, his scoring has a bigger impact on the Pens than Gretz's did on the Oilers. "Numbers can be twisted a lot of ways," Grange writes, "but that kind of jumps out at me because it’s at least one sign that Crosby -- when totals are adjusted to account for league and team averages -- is better than Gretzky, or at least more more impactful.

"It feels weird to even write that."

Or read it.

Just as a point of reference, Gretzky holds the record for the longest consecutive games point streak, 51 games in 1983-84. In those games he only scored 61 goals and 92 assists for 153 points, averaging more than three points a game. Still astonishing.

If you monkey around on NHL.com, you can configure individual stats to rank players by point-per-game average. It's a stat that's rarely cited, but it's a very useful and accessible figure that helps reveal a player's offensive contribution and consistency.  As of today (Thursday, Dec. 9), 23 players who've played 20 or more games are averaging at least a point. Crosby (1.67) leads them, ahead of Steven Stamkos (1.43) with Alex Ovechkin and Marty St. Louis tied for third (1.21).

Farber opened his piece on Crosby by writing, "Gee, the NHL's Steven Stamkos Era ended sort of suddenly, didn't it? Two weeks ago, Stamkos was the NHL's darling, more a tsunami than merely the wave of the future." But Stamkos has gone six games now without a goal  after notching 21  in his first 22 games.

That's the longest drought Stamkos has endured in about a year. The Lightning have gone 2-3-1 in those six games.

"It's not like his skills are gone," Lightning coach Guy Boucher told Damian Cristodero of The St. Petersburg Times. "Teams are just keying so much on him that it takes away from his scoring. But it doesn't take away from his game. He's getting scoring chances. If he was playing bad, I'd be worried, but he's playing good. He's a threat."

And yet, suddenly that 50 goals in 50 games talk is starting to have Crosby's name attached to it. The buzz around Stamkos has, for the moment, been hushed.

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