ST. LOUIS — If Dustin Penner scores a career high 30 goals before season’s 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 — yeah it’s a significant accomplishment, but any personal satisfaction is quickly offset by where he set it.
Penner joining the 30 Goal Club can’t overshadow Edmonton being the sole member of the NHL’s 30th Place Club, so there can be no joy in Mudville.
“It would be nice but I’m not too worried about it,” 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).
“I’d go home and tell my dad, who’d be pretty proud, and that’s about it.”
It’s too bad when a guy who’s turned it around like Penner has can’t 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 that’s the way it is.
“It’s bitter sweet,” said the 27-year-old winger. “It’s too bad we didn’t have a better year collectively, it would mean more then. Now it doesn’t mean too much. It’s good for me, but if the team doesn’t do well ...”
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.
He’d 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 that’s dead by Christmas.
“It’s nice on a personal level, it’s vindication for myself, coming back from last year, getting back to my old ways,” he said. “But it’s actually tougher on me this year than it was last year, knowing the team’s not doing well and we’re in last place.
“It’s a lot harder to be positive when there’s 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. It’s much easier if the team is winning to be positive, even if you had a bad game or struggled.”
The goal in these last eight games isn’t about breaking records, it’s 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.
“Outside of maybe Pens there’s not a guy on this team who’s happy with what he’s done this year,” said Patrick O’Sullivan. “It sucks, the situation that we’re in, but we’ve got nobody to blame but ourselves. But we have to play hard and compete, that’s really all we can do.
“I think we’ve kind of turned a corner as far as how we play as a team since the Olympic break and I think it’s important for us to follow through with that the rest of the way. We’re playing better, you can’t 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 don’t think that will be a problem.”