Crosby’s Pens return to winning ways
Sunday, 24 August 2008
Originally published in Eishockey News in 2007
By Lucas Aykroyd
After the Pittsburgh Penguins won three straight games in Western Canada, there was little doubt about two things. First, the club has rediscovered the winning chemistry that earned it 105 points last year. Second, Sidney Crosby is a god in this part of the world.
The 4-2 win over Edmonton on December 5, the 3-2 shootout victory over Calgary on December 6, and the 2-1 shootout victory over Vancouver on December 9 all attracted sell-out crowds, as Crosby paid his first-ever visits to those cities. The reigning Hart and Art Ross Trophy winner collected three assists versus the Oilers, although he was held pointless the next two games, including being stopped on both a penalty shot and shootout attempt by Vancouver’s Roberto Luongo.
“I think all three games were pretty much a playoff atmosphere,” Crosby said.
Finnish agitator Jarkko Ruutu has nothing but admiration for his superstar captain: “Obviously Sidney’s a world-class player, probably the best player in the world. He’s 20 years old. Imagine the pressure and the tight checking on him, and he still manages to be good every night.”
The Nova Scotia-born center had separate press conferences arranged for him at each Western Canadian stop. In Vancouver, tickets were scalped for C$175 in GM Place’s upper bowl and C$450-800 in the lower bowl. A young woman was spotted holding a sign that said: “I’d Give a Kidney to Make Out With Sidney.”
While Crosby chases Vincent Lecavalier for the NHL scoring lead, other young Penguins are stepping up too. Evgeni Malkin’s point totals aren’t far behind Crosby’s. Rookie defenseman Kris Letang has scored two straight shootout winners. If 19-year-old forward Jordan Staal can rediscover his offensive game, the club will be even more dangerous.
Penguins coach Michel Therrien said: “This is a young group. These are big games, tough games to play. They’re learning quickly with all the attention they’re getting. When we went to Edmonton and Calgary, they were waiting for us. Both teams were ready to take us on, and the same with the Canucks. We have to perform game after game.”
Even though Crosby put together a 19-game point streak between October 6 and November 17, his team’s record was mediocre. The turnaround began in mid-November. The Penguins ended a four-game losing streak with a 3-2 win over the New York Islanders on November 15, and have only lost twice in regulation since then.
Now that Pittsburgh’s back in the Eastern Conference playoff race and only playing one more game in Canada in 2007 (December 13 at Ottawa), Crosby can hope the focus will shift just a little bit more toward his team’s success instead of his individual celebrity.
“I’m a very passionate player,” Crosby said. “I don’t think I’ve really changed a whole lot with the way I play. I probably try to control my emotions a little bit more. I don’t think I’m going to change too much. Competing is a big part of what allows you to have success and I don’t think I’m going to stop competing.”