RALEIGH — 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 NHLs 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 sports biggest star. He quickly mentioned Crosbys skills, but also his focus.
He seems like hes 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; hes done his preparation; hes ready to play, and hes got the skill level to add to it, obviously. You combine that and you have an elite player ready to play every night.
Thats the kind of every-game intensity and concentration Muller has sought to instill in his team. And its interesting that Crosby, in turn, credits Muller in part.
That means a lot coming from him, Crosby said Monday of Mullers 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.
Its Crosbys 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 Crosbys talent, but its the other things Crosby does during a game that catch a coachs 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. Its who he plays against, all the situations. Thats the amazing part to me. He has (the) points, and you say thats 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.
Its a commitment weve 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 games end, Pittsburgh rookie Jayson Megna had his first NHL goal and assist and defenseman Brooks Orpik had three assists. Crosbys line: two points, 16 face-off wins, a plus-3 rating.
And a victory.
I think you have to prepare, Crosby said. Its 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 thats a big part of the game, anyone will tell you, no matter what position they play.
Youre not going to play 82 of your best games, and its pretty rare when you actually feel 100 percent over the course of 82 games, so I think whether its 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