ST. LOUIS ó If Dustin Penner scores a career high 30 goals before seasonís end, expect the celebration to be muted, if not invisible.
Reaching the milestone this year in Edmonton would be like Kevin Costner setting the minor-league home-run record in Bull Durham ó yeah itís a significant accomplishment, but any personal satisfaction is quickly offset by where he set it.
Penner joining the 30 Goal Club canít overshadow Edmonton being the sole member of the NHLís 30th Place Club, so there can be no joy in Mudville.
ďIt would be nice but Iím not too worried about it,Ē said Penner, who needs three goals in his last eight games to become just the third Oiler in the last 10 years to hit 30 (Mike Comrie in 2001-02 and Ryan Smyth three times).
ďIíd go home and tell my dad, whoíd be pretty proud, and thatís about it.Ē
Itís too bad when a guy whoís turned it around like Penner has canít even enjoy his best season, that establishing a career high in points and closing in on the career high 29 goals he scored three years ago in Anaheim must be shushed by the overall malaise here, but thatís the way it is.
ďItís bitter sweet,Ē said the 27-year-old winger. ďItís too bad we didnít have a better year collectively, it would mean more then. Now it doesnít mean too much. Itís good for me, but if the team doesnít do well ...Ē
In fact, if Penner had to choose between the best year of his career and the worst year of his career, it would be no contest.
Heíd take last year over this year in a heartbeat.
Being a whipping boy and a healthy scratch and slumping to 17 goals on a team that has half a chance to make the playoffs is still better than being MVP on a team thatís dead by Christmas.
ďItís nice on a personal level, itís vindication for myself, coming back from last year, getting back to my old ways,Ē he said. ďBut itís actually tougher on me this year than it was last year, knowing the teamís not doing well and weíre in last place.
ďItís a lot harder to be positive when thereís a lot of negativity in the dressing room, because of the way we fared this year, losing the amount of games we did, going on the losing streaks that we did. Itís much easier if the team is winning to be positive, even if you had a bad game or struggled.Ē
The goal in these last eight games isnít about breaking records, itís about playing hard and finishing strongly so they can all feel a little bit better about their situations, and maybe if Penner does get to 30 he can actually pump his fist without having to worry about looking selfish or silly.
ďOutside of maybe Pens thereís not a guy on this team whoís happy with what heís done this year,Ē said Patrick OíSullivan. ďIt sucks, the situation that weíre in, but weíve got nobody to blame but ourselves. But we have to play hard and compete, thatís really all we can do.
ďI think weíve kind of turned a corner as far as how we play as a team since the Olympic break and I think itís important for us to follow through with that the rest of the way. Weíre playing better, you canít argue with that. We need to maintain that, we owe it to ourselves to be ready to play every game and finish the season strong and be professionals about it and I donít think that will be a problem.Ē