Canes see why Pittsburgh's Crosby is the model player

calexander@newsobserver.comOctober 29, 2013 

— It was apparent from the opening face-off Monday that Sidney Crosby was not going to let the Pittsburgh Penguins lose.

Crosby won the draw against the Hurricanes’ Jordan Staal. Later in the first period, the Pens captain won another against Elias Lindholm, leading to the first goal of the game.

Crosby, the NHL’s leading scorer, had two assists for the night. He played more than 23 minutes, and for much of the Pens’ 3-1 win over the Canes, he again was the best player on the ice at PNC Arena as Pittsburgh ended a three-game skid.

Hours before the game, Canes coach Kirk Muller talked of Crosby, of what impressed him most about the sport’s biggest star. He quickly mentioned Crosby’s skills, but also his focus.

“He seems like he’s into every game,” Muller said. “He does his work as far as preparation, but when that game hits it looks like the only thing on his mind is that game.

“He knows his opponent; he’s done his preparation; he’s ready to play, and he’s got the skill level to add to it, obviously. You combine that and you have an elite player ready to play every night.”

That’s the kind of every-game intensity and concentration Muller has sought to instill in his team. And it’s interesting that Crosby, in turn, credits Muller in part.

“That means a lot coming from him,” Crosby said Monday of Muller’s praise.

Crosby said as a young kid growing up in Cole Harbour, Nova Scotia, he was thrilled when the Montreal Canadiens won the Stanley Cup in 1993. He admired the way Muller played the game and later served as the Habs’ team captain.

“I was a big Montreal Canadiens fan, and I remember watching Kirk play a lot,” Crosby said. “He was probably one of my favorite players. The way he competed. He did it all. He was offensively pretty gifted, but he blocked shots and played against other teams’ top lines and was responsible all over the ice.”

It’s Crosby’s all-over-the-ice play that Pens coach Dan Bylsma appreciates. Bylsma said many people watch a hockey highlight and see a great skill play and marvel at Crosby’s talent, but it’s the other things Crosby does during a game that catch a coach’s eye.

“How he plays the game all over the ice is really more fantastic than the highlight we see on the post-game show,” Bylsma said. “It’s who he plays against, all the situations. That’s the amazing part to me. He has (the) points, and you say that’s a great number, but how he plays, where he plays, every night, is the exceptional part about his game.”

The Hurricanes have players who are proven point producers: Eric Staal. Alex Semin. Jeff Skinner, when healthy.

The Canes, in losing three straight games, have scored just four goals, so offensive production is becoming a problem. But for Muller, to be a better team, to reach the playoffs, the Canes must be tougher and more effective in all three zones.

“It’s a commitment we’ve been preaching from day one this year – playing better without the puck,” Muller said.

In analyzing the loss to the Pens, Muller said the Canes came up “light.” The Pens, he said, played a “heavier” game and the Canes did not respond well, certainly not in the third period.

By game’s end, Pittsburgh rookie Jayson Megna had his first NHL goal and assist and defenseman Brooks Orpik had three assists. Crosby’s line: two points, 16 face-off wins, a plus-3 rating.

And a victory.

“I think you have to prepare,” Crosby said. “It’s tough to be consistent, especially with so many games. Every night teams want to shut you down, keep you off the score sheet, prevent you from creating chances. So mentally you have to be ready to compete and expect that every night. I think that’s a big part of the game, anyone will tell you, no matter what position they play.

“You’re not going to play 82 of your best games, and it’s pretty rare when you actually feel 100 percent over the course of 82 games, so I think whether it’s your line mates or your teammates, you have to be in it together and help each other out. At the same time, individually, you have to make sure you prepare to give yourself the best chance to perform every night.”

Take it from the guy at the top.

Alexander: 919-829-8945 Twitter: @ice_chip

News & Observer is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service