PITTSBURGH (AP) – No doubt Sidney Crosby didn’t figure it would take this long.

No, not to score his first goal – that came two weeks ago. Or to enjoy his first multipoint game. Or to get comfortable with the speed and physicality of the NHL after never previously playing above juniors.

What Crosby hasn’t done yet is win a game, and that’s getting old even for an 18-year-old.

Crosby said last month he felt lucky because most No. 1 draft picks play for losing-record clubs, while he landed on a talented, deep Pittsburgh Penguins team that rapidly rebuilt itself last summer. Most rookies, he said, don’t play alongside a Mario Lemieux or Mark Recchi, a John LeClair or Sergei Gonchar or Ziggy Palffy.

Eight games and eight losses later, four in overtime, Crosby still thinks the Penguins are a good team – and, he insisted Monday, a potentially great team. What they don’t have is a single victory to prove it in a league where every other team has won at least twice and all but two teams have at least three victories.

“We’re passed the stage of frustration,” coach Eddie Olczyk said Monday.

The Penguins aren’t in danger of falling out of playoff contention only one-tenth of the way through their season – those four overtime losses are the points equivalent of two wins. But the slow start could force them to play catch-up all season in the Atlantic Division, where every other team has at least four victories.

“It’s a little frustrating, but it’s hockey – you go through skids and this happens to be a long one, but you have to look at it and see it’s a long season,” Crosby said. “Once we get over this hump we’ll be fine.”

Maybe these aren’t desperate times yet, but the Penguins realize they dare not struggle again during a three-game home stand this week that starts Tuesday against Florida, not with a difficult five-game road trip awaiting them next week.

“Going through this is a lot of adversity – let’s be honest, there is a little bit of pressure because we haven’t been winning – and if we can get through this, we’ll be better for it,” Crosby said. “It’s not an ideal situation but now we realize it’s tough to win and we have to be ready every night. We have to dig deep and play determined and play desperate.”

And it’s not even Halloween.

Crosby himself has been anything but a disappointment, with a team-high 11 points on two goals and nine assists. He’s creating plenty of scoring chances for himself, though he’s missing a lot of shots, and he has often played long stretches where he was clearly the best player on the ice.

But while Crosby, Lemieux, Palffy and Recchi have been steady and productive, most of the other Penguins have flopped. Gonchar, signed to a $25 million contract that was larger than the Penguins’ entire 2003-04 payroll, has only one goal. LeClair has one goal and is a minus-6. And the defensemen have been dreadful, with giveaway after giveaway and bad penalty after bad penalty.

The Penguins took so many poor penalties away from plays in a 6-3 loss Saturday to Boston, they spent nearly six minutes with only three skaters.

“It’s tough right now, but we feel we’re getting closer. We just have to be smarter on the ice and take less penalties and make sure we all do our jobs,” Lemieux said of a team that is permitting 11 more shots per game than it is taking, a remarkable stat given the Penguins’ collection of scorers.

The temptation for players such as Crosby and Lemieux has been to overcompensate, to try to make a big play on every shift, and that’s only hastened the frustration for a team that has led in only one of its eight games.

“You want to stay away from that,” Crosby said. “I’ve had a lot of chances, and I haven’t been able to put a few in, but they’re going to come. I’ve hit some posts, and it’s a matter of making sure when I do have chances, I bear down.”

No problem there. Crosby clearly hasn’t been awed by his surroundings or by the league, never taking even a single shift off.

He also hasn’t been the typical rookie, even jawing with the officials a few times to try to establish from the start of his career he won’t let himself or his team get pushed around.

“Once we get rolling, we’re going to be great, but it’s a steep mountain to climb when you go through this,” Crosby said. “But it’s better we get it out of the way now. If we keep working and start getting some bounces, we’re going to be fine. If you work hard and keep creating, things usually go your way.”

AP-ES-10-24-05 1757EDT


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