(Voorhees, NJ) – Penguins center Sidney Crosby just returned from his first trip as a professional to Western Canada, where he was greeted to raucous cheers and plenty of fanfare in cities such as Edmonton, Calgary and Vancouver.
He’ll get no such reception on Tuesday night in Philadelphia (7:00 p.m., Versus). The Penguins visit the Wachovia Center for the second time this season, and have lost the first two games of the season series against the Flyers after winning all eight last year. As always, stopping Crosby will be the key to stopping the Penguins.
On home ice, that duty usually falls mainly on the shoulders of Mike Richards, who helped to limit Crosby to a single assist in Philadelphia’s 5-2 win on November 10. At the end of that game, the pair engaged in a heated argument at center ice during a stoppage in play, which may have been the result of Crosby’s failure to draw a penalty on Jason Smith after a light slash to his left hand late in the game. Neither player wanted to comment afterwards on what was said.
|Sidney Crosby reacts to getting hit on the hands by Philadelphia's Jason Smith on November 10. There was no penalty called on the play. (Getty Images) |
The two will reunite on the ice for the first time since that incident, and Richards will once again be looking keep last season’s Hart Trophy winner at bay.
“You just have to try to contain him. He’s very opportunistic and somehow he just finds players,” said Richards. “It’s similar as how people would defend [former Flyer Peter] Forsberg. You just have to expect the unexpected and be ready at all times.”
“He’s a terrific positional player, and I don’t remember such a young player doing so many things well from a positional standpoint, and when the puck turns over, he’s as good as there is at turning it into offense,” said Head Coach John Stevens. “We’re going to have to be on our toes.”
The Penguins, who got off to a slow start, have won seven of their last eight games (three in shootouts). Although he was held without a point in the last two games, Crosby is tied for third in the league in scoring with 40 points (14g, 26a).
“I expected they’d get things going. They just had a great trip out West, and we’re going to have to be ready here [Tuesday] night,” said Stevens.
Pittsburgh is tied with the Flyers with 32 points, although the Penguins have played two more games than Philadelphia. In fact, the entire Atlantic Division is separated by just five points. Because of that fact, division games will become more and more important as the season progresses.
“We’re only in mid-December and already the games are extremely meaningful,” said Mike Knuble. “Just getting to the playoffs is exhausting, but it’s safe to say that’s already started in mid-December.
“Our division is extremely competitive from top to bottom. There is not a lot separating them at times. If one of the teams can get on a little streak, you can really jump out in front of the pack.”
A streak is something that the Flyers are desperately looking for. The team has alternated wins and losses in its last eight games, and has not won back-to-back contests since November 10 and 12. Philadelphia returned from its brief two-game road swing with a 3-1 win in Minnesota and a hard-fought 2-1 loss in Colorado.
Despite the continuation of the win one, lose one pattern, the Flyers think that the way they played in Colorado was a sign that they have snapped out of their funk.
“For me, we broke that cycle the way we played in Colorado,” said Danny Briere
. “Sometimes you’re going to face good teams and you’re not going to win, but what’s the most important is you play well and give yourself a chance. We did that in Colorado.
“I think everybody was very satisfied with the effort.”
Philadelphia, which won its first six home games, will have the opportunity to turn things around at the Wachovia Center with six of its next eight games there.
“I’m encouraged by practice and what’s gone on this week,” said Stevens. “The competitive level of our group the last couple of days has been terrific, and we’re looking forward to getting into a home game tomorrow.”