Sports Hockey

Pens vs. Leafs

Pittsburgh Penguins star Sidney Crosby talks with Mike Zeisberger 0

By Mike Zeisberger, Toronto Sun

Pittsburgh Penguins centre Sidney Crosby (87) handles the puck as Colorado Avalanche centre Nathan MacKinnon defends duringNHL play at the CONSOL Energy Center.(Charles LeClaire/USA TODAY Sports)

Pittsburgh Penguins centre Sidney Crosby (87) handles the puck as Colorado Avalanche centre Nathan MacKinnon defends duringNHL play at the CONSOL Energy Center.(Charles LeClaire/USA TODAY Sports)

If Maple Leaf fans are still reliving the nightmare of having their hearts stomped on by the big Bad Boston Bruins during the playoffs this past spring, Sidney Crosby must feel like the Beantowners ripped the ticker right out of his gut.

At least the Leafs got to a Game 7. At least, for 45 minutes of the decisive game, there was the flickering hope of being able to dispose of Claude Julien's team before the Bruins made their historic comeback to advance past Toronto in the first round.

Two rounds later, Crosby and the Pens never even got that close. They didn't even win a game against the Bruins. The Leafs, at least, won three.

As the top player in the game, Sid The Kid is driven by pride. He might not wear his emotions publicly on his sleeve in the same way as, say, Alex Ovechkin, his rival who has been known to slam his body against the glass to celebrate a huge goal.

But don't be fooled.

The fire inside Crosby's belly to be the best burns just as much as it does for The Great Eight or anyone else in the sport.

As such, the humiliation of being swept by the Bruins in the Eastern Conference final still drives him. After all, this was a Penguins team, if you'll recall, that had loaded up at the trade deadline by adding the likes of Jarome Iginla, Brenden Morrow and Douglas Murray. It was a Penguins team that, on paper, many figured was a slam dunk to hoist the Stanley Cup at the end of June.

It may as well have been toilet paper. Because once the Bruins had finished with the Pens, that's where their title aspirations disappeared -- right down the toilet.

As his Penguins visit the Air Canada Centre on Saturday, Crosby is hungrier than ever before -- hungry to make up for the spring's Letdown In Beantown and to have his name etched on the Stanley Cup for a second time. Come February, he'll also lead Canada at the Sochi Olympics after his Golden Goal in overtime against the U.S. in Vancouver in 2010 gave the Canadians an Olympic title on home soil.

There's still so much to prove. Just the way Sid The Kid wants it.

Should we be surprised Crosby has roared out to a sizzling start, racking up 18 points in his first 10 games heading into Saturday's clash against the Leafs? Of course not.

If Sidney Crosby appears to be a man on a mission, that's because he is. A gold medal and a Stanley Cup are the goals. Nothing less will do.

To better understand what makes Sid The Kid tick, we present yet another version of Sidney Crosby: Unplugged. We asked the questions, he fired back the answers. Enough said.

ON HIS HEALTH: Best since the 2011 Winter Classic?

The health issue, of course, has lingered like a black cloud over Crosby's head ever since he had his marbles scrambled by a David Steckel hit during the outdoor game at Heinz Field.

Last March, Crosby told the Sun that there were no more headaches and very few leftover questions about how he was feeling.

Less than three weeks later, a shot from teammate Brooks Orpik deflected right into Crosby's face, breaking his jaw and sending 10 of his teeth scattering down to the ice like Chiclets.

It was yet another painful comeback for a player who has spent more than his share of time in the trainers' room for the past three years.

Keeping that in mind, Crosby was asked if this was the best he's felt since the moments leading up to the Steckel incident.

"It's hard to remember that far back," he chuckled.

Relax, folks. He isn't having memory issues because of a lingering concussion. He was just joking.

"I'm definitely feeling good," Crosby said. "Our team's off to a good start and the start of a season is always kind of a process. But we've really committed to working hard early, making that adjustment as early as possible and working to refine our game."

If you feel good, you play good.

ON BEING SWEPT BY THE BRUINS: Burning motivation

Sidney Crosby still remembers: The sweep at the hands of the Bruins. The ensuing handshakes with Boston players. And the hurt and realization that, yes, a season with so much promise was suddenly over.

They are memories he admits fuels him.

"I think there definitely is motivation," Crosby said. "It's never fun to lose and there are high expectations here to win every year.

"To get that close and not get to the final and not giving ourselves a chance is disappointing. And to get swept -- it didn't feel like a 4-0 series. The reality is, we got swept and we didn't get to where we wanted.

"I think we have things to draw on to motivate us."

A "motivated" Sid The Kid? Watch out, NHL.

ON HIS HOT START: 18 points in first 10 games

Unlike last season, when the lockout led to a compressed exhibition schedule, Crosby has flourished thanks to plenty of practice time with linemates Chris Kunitz and Pascal Dupuis.

"One of the keys, I think, is just having a pre-season (and) being able to go through the process of camp and the pre-season," he said.

"Obviously, getting some time with (Kunitz) and (Dupuis) has helped a lot. I would say that's a big part of it."

Not to mention the fact he owns arguably the best cache of God-given hockey talent of anyone on the globe.

ON GM RAY SHERO: Keeping the core intact

Most of the hockey world figured Ray Shero's "all-or-nothing" efforts to win the Cup last season would leave the Pens reeling in 2013-14 because of salary cap issues.

Yet, somehow, Shero has managed to keep the foundation of the Penguins intact.

Sure, the Pens were forced to say goodbye to Murray, Iginla and Morrow over the summer. But, in the process, Shero found a way to extend the contract of coach Dan Bylsma, lock up franchise defenceman Kris Letang to a long-term deal, and bring back solid defender Rob Scuderi, a member of the Pens' 2009 Cup-winning team who also won a title with the L.A. Kings in 2012.

"Ray did a great job," Crosby said. "There were a lot of questions about who we would be able to keep with many guys having great years who became free agents, things like that.

"He did a really good job of keeping the core together, bringing in Scuds (Rob Scuderi), someone we're all familiar with who was a big part of our team when we won in 2009 and had a huge role in L.A. winning, too. It's nice to have (Scuderi) back. And have the stability of the coaching staff helps a huge amount."

ON THE SEASON AHEAD: Something special brewing?

On pace for 148 points entering play on Saturday, Crosby and the Pens look to be on track to be one of the favourites to win the second Cup of his already illustrious career.

But don't get carried away, he warns. It's still October.

"It's early," he said. "We're just nine, 10 games in. There's a lot of time left. The season is a marathon, so you don't look too far ahead.

"We're just trying to make sure we are getting better. And, individually, that you're getting better as the year goes on."

A "better" Sidney Crosby?

To repeat: Watch out, NHL.

And, for that matter, Sochi, too.

QUEST FOR 150

Heading into Saturday's contest versus the Leafs, Sidney Crosby had accrued 18 points in his first 10 games of 2013-14, including an eight-game points streak to start the season.

While it's still early, Crosby's sizzling start out of the gates puts him at a pace that, pro-rated over an 82-game schedule, would leave him with 155 points by the end of the season.

No player has managed to eclipse the 150-point mark since 1996 when Mario Lemieux racked up 161. That, by the way, is the same Lemieux who owns the Penguins and who opened his home to Sid The Kid to live in when Crosby first came to Pittsburgh in 1996.

Let's be serious here. History has shown us over the past 17 years that the odds are against Crosby keeping up his pace en route to cracking the 150-point plateau. Besides, it's far too early to make any logical, this-is-a-sure-thing type of assumptions.

Then again, when No. 87 is involved, anything is possible.

Here is a look at the highest single-season point totals by an individual player dating back to Super Mario's 161 in '96.

  • 161: Mario Lemieux, Penguins (1996)
  • 149: Jaromir Jagr, Penguins (1996)
  • 127: Jaromir Jagr, Penguins (1999)
  • 125: Joe Thornton, Sharks (2006)
  • 123: Jaromir Jagr, Rangers (2006)
  • 122: Mario Lemieux, Penguins (1997)
  • 121: Jaromir Jagr, Penguins (2001)
  • 120: Sidney Crosby, Penguins (2007)
  • 120: Joe Sakic, Avs (1996)

CROSBY READY FOR SOCHI

From the ski jumper peering down from the top of the 120-metre ramp to the nervous figure skater looking to nail that elusive triple lutz, Sidney Crosby feels the formula of success for Team Canada in Sochi will be the same as that for any other athlete looking to win gold.

There is one shot at glory. That's it. Be ready.

So says the man whose golden goal against the U.S. in 2010 won Canada the Olympic hockey title on home soil, igniting this entire country to bust out in a giant coast-to-coast celebration.

The keys to a repeat come February in Russia?

"I think that they're the same for every other team or athlete," Crosby said. "It's an intense event. You just get one game, not an entire series. You have to execute. You have to be at your best at the right time.

"It's no different than it is for any individual athlete at the Olympics. It's the same for any hockey team going there. You must make certain that you are at your best when the time comes."

Of course, there is a new wrinkle in Crosby's attempt to lead Canada to back-to-back Olympic crowns. The man who coaches him in Pittsburgh, Dan Bylsma, will be behind the U.S. bench in Sochi attempting to stop Sid The Kid rather than encouraging him.

"It will be kind of weird, obviously," Crosby said. "It's something I went through before facing Orps (Brooks Orpik) and Geno (Evgeni Malkin) in Vancouver.

"It's a little different. It's even more different when you see them walking around the Olympic village. They're with guys you compete against.

"You're used to seeing them on the plane, in the dressing room, things like that. It's a little different in that way. But once you get there, that's part of it and we're all happy and proud to be representing our country."

CROSBY AND STAMKOS TOGETHER?

Sidney Crosby can imagine an Olympic scenario where Steven Stamkos is on his wing and Flower Power rules the Canadian net.

The inconsistent play the past couple of seasons by Marc-Andre (The Flower) Fleury understandably resulted in Team Canada officials not offering him an invite to the Olympic orientation camp in Calgary back in August.

But in Crosby's mind, his goalie's solid start this season, coupled with his career body of work, should at least get Fleury a close look from Steve Yzerman's management team when it determines the final roster.

"I think he's proven that and earned that right," Crosby said. "That's something we've definitely seen before where guys don't get invites to camp and are definitely on the radar for the first half of the season.

"He's played really well. He's definitely earned the right to be considered."

Fleury and Crosby won a Stanley Cup together with the Penguins in 2009.

"As for playing with Stamkos, that would be great," Crosby said. "The way he shoots the puck, knowing that it doesn't take him long and that he doesn't need much time and space to get that shot away, I'd love the opportunity to find him."

Stamkos and Crosby together? Welcome to a goalie's nightmare.

mike.zeisberger@sunmedia.ca

Reader's comments »

By adding a comment on the site, you accept our terms and conditions and our netiquette rules.


Featured Businesses

Go to the Marketplace »