Can Sidney Crosby hit the 50-goal mark again next season?

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crosbygoalscoring.jpgDuring his first four seasons, Sidney Crosby was transparently pass-first. That’s not a bad thing in many ways since setting up teammates is a naturally selfless act and Crosby is one of the NHL’s most gifted playmakers. Still, when you consider how much the Pittsburgh Penguins depend on his production, opposing teams might have benefited from simply cutting off Crosby’s passing lanes.

Something changed during the 2009 playoffs, though. During the headline-grabbing Capitals-Penguins series, it seemed like something clicked. Crosby started scoring goals at a near Ovechkin-pace in that series, even if most of his goals were wildly different. While Ovechkin overpowered opponents and scored from ridiculous spots on the ice, Crosby succeeded by scoring ugly goals in tough spots.

My guess is that series – and a switch to a composite stick – helped Crosby develop confidence in his shot. He increased his career highs in goals (from 36 to 51) and shots on goal (278 to 298) and tied Steven Stamkos for the Maurice Richard Trophy. Stat crunching blog Behind the Net posed the reasonable question: can Crosby match his goal output from last season?

Thumbnail image for stamkoscrosbyrichard.jpgThey make some great points in that post, but I thought I’d break down why he will (or won’t) hit the 50-goal mark in 2010-11.

Why he won’t score 50 again

  • Crosby’s still a pass-first player at heart and the addition of Mike Comrie might give him a new running mate.
  • His 17.1 shooting percentage for the 2009-10 season is about 3 percent higher than his typical 14 percent success rate. If Crosby again recorded 298 shots but only connected on his usual 14 percent rate, he would have only scored 41-42 goals.
  • He played 81 games last season and generally has a lot of mileage from the last few seasons. Will he catch the injury bug again?

Why he could score 50 again

  • Crosby might have changed his game enough to become a consistent goal scorer, especially if he keeps shooting.
  • He’s just entering his prime at 23.
  • There still will be a lot of pressure on Crosby to carry the team’s offense.

Overall, I agree with Behind the Net’s estimates that he’ll “regress” to the 40 goal range. How many goals do you think Crosby will score next season? Somewhere between 30 and 35, the predicted 40 goal range or perhaps 50 or more? Tell us what you think in the comments.