Sidney Crosby is disproving the theory that the NHL would never again see a time when offense ruled and top goal scorers routinely averaged a goal a game.
Crosby scored twice during his fourth multiple-goal game in his last six, and the Pittsburgh Penguins won their 11th game in a row by beating the visiting Toronto Maple Leafs, 5-2, last night.
The Penguins, 12-0-1 since last losing in regulation on Nov. 10, are on the second-longest winning streak in franchise history. Their only longer run was their NHL-record 17-game streak during a 119-point season in 1993.
That's back when Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux regularly scored goals in bunches. During a much different era when goals don't come as easily and 100-point scorers are scarce, the 23-year-old Crosby leads the NHL with 26 goals and 50 points in 30 games
The former NHL MVP and scoring champion has 20 goals and 15 assists during a 17-game scoring streak that is two shy of his career best, and he has 14 goals during Pittsburgh's winning streak.
Crosby also has nine goals in the Penguins' last four home games. He has at least one goal in 13 of 17 games, one reason some in the standing-room crowd 18,1568 began chanting, "M-V-P! M-V-P!"
There's more: Crosby has figured in 22 of the Penguins' 38 goals during a winning streak that began after they lost a 2-1 lead in the final minute of a 3-2 overtime loss to the Rangers on Nov. 15.
"It's December, though, and there's a lot of season left," said Crosby, who also received a standing ovation. "As a group, we want to keep going and individually, [I] want to keep going. Just want to keep going."
Crosby nearly got his third hat trick in four home games, using an inside-out move to fool goalie Jonas Gustavsson in the opening 30 seconds of the third period. But the puck trickled off his stick inches shy of the goal line.
Earlier, Crosby opened the scoring at 8:35 of the first, missing on his initial attempt to put Chris Kunitz's rebound past Gustavsson before going to his backhand to score a moment later.
"I wish we had more guys to cover him," Toronto coach Ron Wilson said.
Kunitz had three assists for Pittsburgh, and Mark Letestu scored twice after going 22 games without a goal as Pittsburgh opened a 4-0 lead.
"We still have a long way to go to get to where we think we can be," coach Dan Bylsma said. "I think with the mindset that we have, the players we have, we go over the boards every game thinking we can dictate the game and the pace."
"They're a well-oiled machine right now," Toronto forward Colby Armstrong said. "They're playing good hockey, they're making simple plays. We were a step behind and they're going to burn us. It's too hard to come back against a team like that."
In other games:
* At Detroit, Colin Wilson, Martin Erat and J.P. Dumont scored and Anders Lindback made 35 saves to help the Nashville Predators beat the Red Wings, 3-2.
* At Chicago, rookies Bryan Bickell and Jeremy Morin scored goals and Corey Crawford made 28 saves in the Blackhawks' 5-3 victory over the Dallas Stars. Playing without injured offensive stars Patrick Kane and Marian Hossa, the Stanley Cup champion Blackhawks won their second straight game and fifth in the last six.
* At Vancouver, Ryan Kesler scored his second goal of the game with 22 seconds remaining to force overtime for the Canucks, who then defeated the Anaheim Ducks, 5-4, in a shootout, thanks to Jeff Tambellini's tally.
* Jere Lehtinen, 37, has officially retired from the NHL, ending a 14-season career spent entirely with the Dallas Stars.