They better get ready and put the awe away before the game because the way that Crosby and Malkin play, you can’t get caught watching because the red light’s going to be on in no time. - Bob Hartley
CALGARY, AB -- Calgary Flames fans will be treated to two of hockey’s biggest stars Friday. Flames coach Bob Hartley is hoping his players don’t see it the same way.
Calgary will play host to Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and the Pittsburgh Penguins, but Hartley insists his players best not pay two of the game’s best the ultimate compliment.
“They better get ready and put the awe away before the game because the way that Crosby and Malkin play, you can’t get caught watching because the red light’s going to be on in no time,” said Hartley, who’s Flames are in second in the Pacific Division with a 29-20-3 mark after downing the San Jose Sharks 3-1 on Wednesday.
“It’s another game that we will have to be at our best. I think looking at the past challenges we had to be at our best and tomorrow night it’s none different. For the fans, maybe it is a great attraction. We won’t deny it. But on our side it has to be a game where at the final buzzer we want two points.”
Crosby sits fifth in NHL scoring with 53 points in 47 games. Malkin sits sixth with one fewer point and one fewer game played to date.
Getting mesmerized by the pair isn’t high on Calgary’s agenda.
In fact, it’s a non-factor for the Flames’ youth, Matt Stajan declared.
“I think everybody’s played enough games this year where you’ve played against some pretty big names,” he said. “The games are so important. I think we’ve really focused on ourselves and making sure that the focus is on how we play. The young guys have really done a good job with that. It’s cool when you play against those big-name guys but Joe Thornton’s a pretty big name that I’m sure they grew up watching.
“You get that on a nightly basis and they’re going to be big names, too. They already are in my books. There are kids watching these guys that when they’re older it’s going to be the same thing.”
But Stajan could see how Johnny Gaudreau, Josh Jooris et al could get a little star-struck.
Breaking into the League with the Toronto Maple Leafs in 2003, Stajan admitted he got caught up at times with those skating opposite him.
It wasn’t hard given whom he’d line up against.
“You grow up watching and every game you’re playing against guys you watched growing up,” Stajan said. “Playing against Mario Lemieux, obviously, Mark Messier. They were right at the end of their careers, but lining up against the likes of Steve Yzerman, it’s pretty special to do that and when you sit back and think about it and take it all in, it’s pretty special.
“I think every player has that moment. You relish it and you enjoy it. It’s a great memory to have but you’re a part of the best players of the world when you’re in the NHL. You learn that pretty quick. You’ve got to take care of yourself and make sure you’re trying to be the best player you can be.”
In preparing for the Penguins, Hartley gave some members of his crew the option. Fourteen skaters plus Karri Ramo took to the ice Thursday, while others kept it to off-ice activities.
“We gave a few breaks to some guys,” Hartley said. “We put the guys in the gym to recover. We’ve used quite a bit of guys playing big minutes and make sure that we monitor the gas tank. On the ice, we’re working mainly on details so on the ice I thought it was great learning and we didn’t spend too much energy.”
One of those that kept to the gym included defenceman TJ Brodie, who was one second shy of the 30-minute plateau against the Sharks -- the second-highest total of his career.
Brodie called the rest nice, but…
“It’s nice to get a rest but at the same time, sometimes it can go the other way too,” he said. “You might feel a little bit slow the next day. Pre-game skate’s going to be big tomorrow.
“Lately we’ve had a pretty good schedule where we’ve had days off in between games. I think that’s always big, too. We’ve been home for a while too so it gives you a little bit more rest.”
For some, sustaining an injury in their first career NHL game would be devastating. But David Wolf is all smiles. The 25-year-old rookie isn’t about to sour on his situation.
“He’s great,” Hartley said. “Watch him every day. He comes and sits on the bench and he watches practice. I’ve rarely seen this. He’s the first one here in the morning. He’s enjoying every second.
“It’s Christmas every day with Wolfie. He has a big smile.”
Wolf had a strong showing through two periods of his NHL debut, a 4-2 Flames victory against the Edmonton Oilers on Jan. 31. It was cut short, however, after suffering a cut on his thigh early in the third period.
Still, the attitude he continues to bring is infectious, Stajan admitted.
“He’s very engaged. He’s excited,” he said. “The first few games he was up he didn’t even play and just took warm-ups and he was so eager and excited about warm-up and nervous. That’s great to see. We were all there once and when he finally got to play he played great. Unfortunately he got hurt. I think that’s what it’s all about. When you play a long time you sometimes forget the excitement that you had your first few weeks, first few months, first year.
“It’s exciting. We all dream of being here. We’re all living our dreams playing in the NHL. We all need to really relish that moment and when a young guy comes up like Wolfie you see that and it brings back your first few years.”