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At the Rink blog

Cole relished challenge of shutting down Crosby

Friday, 11.25.2011 / 2:58 PM

By Louie Korac - NHL.com Correspondent / At the Rink blog

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At the Rink blog
Cole relished challenge of shutting down Crosby
ST. LOUIS -- It was only his 31st career game, but for Blues defenseman Ian Cole, it was the most critical -- and certainly most challenging -- assignment he's drawn as a National Hockey League player.

It helps having Alex Pietrangelo as a defensive partner, because you'll draw tough assignments on a nightly basis, but when you're asked to harass Pittsburgh's Sidney Crosby, that's a different breed.

Cole and Pietrangelo came out with flying colors, though, not only keeping the best player in the League scoreless in his second game back from a concussion, but also winning in a building that's been tough on visiting teams this season.

"It was, for sure, but then in that third period when they were down by a goal, they started throwing Crosby and (Evgeni) Malkin out there together," Cole said of the Blues' 3-2 overtime win in Pittsburgh Wednesday. "And then you're playing against two of the best players in the world. They're arguably one-two or one and top five. ... It was definitely a test, definitely a battle. But it definitely feels good to shut those guys down."

It was Cole's fifth game of the season and he played a season-high in minutes at 21:48. Pietrangelo skated a game-high 27:59 and scored the winning goal in overtime.

"There's not many defensemen where you say this guy's got a chance to be a one. He has a chance to be a one," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said of Pietrangelo. "Not many teams have that. We have an opportunity to have a player like him become a one over time. He's a young guy, he's just learning how to play the game.

"There's not many players in the League that are able to play against top players, play on the power play (and) kill penalties. He's got a chance if he keeps improving to be in that one category. Those are valuable guys where you can play them heavy minutes and not worry about them."

Hitchcock said Pietrangelo reminds him of Nashville's Ryan Suter and lists players like the Preds' Shea Weber and Los Angeles' Drew Doughty as those players that have that ability to be a No. 1 guy.

With Cole, it wasn't a question of whether to throw him out against Crosby. Hitchcock felt it was time. The Blues' coach liked the end result.

"Really good," Hitchcock said when asked to summarize Cole's game Wednesday. "To get to the next level, if he can get firmer with the puck, it's going to help us a lot. But he's hard on people. He's really got that second and third effort defending-wise, which is really good.

"If we can just get him firmer under pressure with the puck so he's not feeling like there's three guys after him ... there's just one, sometimes younger players think there's more coming at them than there is. If we can get him up to speed there, he's a very competitive guy, which is a good sign for us."

So after Crosby debuted with 4 points against the New York Islanders Monday, Cole and Pietrangelo held Crosby scoreless Wednesday. Malkin did have 2 assists.

So is there a secret to containing Sid the Kid?

"There's not one thing that you can do," Cole said. "He's so good, so well-rounded. You've just got to play him hard and stay in his face, not give him too much room. If he has room, he makes stuff happen."

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After stopping 31 shots, including 15 of 17 in the third period, the Blues will once again turn to backup Brian Elliott tonight against the Calgary Flames.

Elliott is a sparkling 8-1-0 on the season with a league-leading 1.48 goals-against average and .946 save percentage.

"The guy that's playing tonight, he weathered the tsunami in the third period ... more than weathered it, so he gets to play tonight because he got real wet in the third period," Hitchcock joked. "Just out of sympathy alone, he gets to come back and play today."

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The Blues will not make any lineup changes from the one they used Wednesday night in Pittsburgh:

Alexander Steen - David Backes - T.J. Oshie
Chris Stewart - Patrik Berglund - Matt D'Agostini
Vladimir Sobotka - Jason Arnott - Jamie Langenbrunner
Brett Sterling - Scott Nichol - Ryan Reaves

Ian Cole - Alex Pietrangelo
Barret Jackman - Kevin Shattenkirk
Kris Russell - Roman Polak

Brian Elliott will start in goal; Jaroslav Halak is the backup.

Quote of the Day

I think Loui Eriksson is a player that can be even better than he was last year. I think we started seeing that at the end of the year, and he could be a replacement for Jarome as a possibility.

— Boston Bruins coach Claude Julien on forward Loui Eriksson's potential