, who has won just about everything competed for in hockey, is Team Canada's captain in Vancouver. But if you look at the anticipation for these Games, Vancouver is all about Sidney Crosby
And why not? He and Alex Ovechkin
have propelled themselves into the rarified air of the superstar and with the Olympics in Canada, it is only logical that Crosby's Olympic debut on a powerful Canadian team that is favored to win gold tops the headlines.
"His game has evolved every year," Team Canada Executive Director Steve Yzerman
said. "He's a complete player much like Michael Jordan in basketball.
"Every year they tried to find something wrong in his game and he got better and better at everything. Not that anyone has ever criticized Sidney's game, but you've watched every part of his game improve. We've seen it firsthand, to our (Detroit Red Wings
) dismay, in the Stanley Cup Final last year. … He's a complete hockey player. He does everything well and he's really, really driven and really, really motivated.
"He's one of the leaders of our team, he's one of our top players," Yzerman continued." You can say he's our top player. That's obviously not overstating it. He's an incredibly driven player, who's a complete guy that the coaches can use in any situation and play any type of hockey. From playing against him, we have a great understanding of his strengths and I would say of his weaknesses, he has no weaknesses. We know him. He's going to be one of our leaders, on and off the ice, his presence, he's the face of Canadian hockey, one of the faces of the NHL."
In case there is need of a refresher, Crosby has 42 goals and 36 assists in 61 games this season. He plays nearly 22 minutes per game and has won 56.6 percent of his faceoffs and is the runaway leader in faceoffs won.
'Breaking' it down --
After Sunday's games, NHL players not heading to the Olympics scattered for a week of R and R before reporting back to practice on Feb. 24. Philly's Jeff Carter
got an unexpected trip to Vancouver to be ready in case the injured Ryan Getzlaf
can't play. Of the rest of his roster, coach Peter Laviolette
is confident his player will keep up with their conditioning.
"I certainly hope that we would maintain some form of conditioning," Laviolette told reporters. "I don't think you get to this level and then just all of a sudden not care anymore. Our guys need to perform well when they get back. We have no control over what they do (during the break). They're gone, but I know guys will be there working out."
For the New Jersey Devils
' Olympic contingent, there was an early flight out of Newark for Vancouver. Coach Jacques Lemaire
, assistant coach Tommy Albelin
, Americans Jamie Langenbrunner
and Zach Parise
were scheduled to be on it. Lemaire joked that he won't talk to any of them now that the Olympics are under way.
"With the competition," Lemaire said, "we're not friends anymore for two weeks."
Lemaire said he was flying first class, while Albelin, as assistant coach for Sweden, "is in the 52nd row."
"I won't even talk to him," Lemaire laughed. "I don't know him."
As for goalie Martin Brodeur
, he is bringing so many family members to Vancouver he chartered a plane.
Happy for the break --
Even the addition of Ilya Kovalchuk
hasn't been able to snap the Devils out of their doldrums, so maybe the Olympic break will. The Devils reached the break with a 5-10-2 record. Their next game is no laugher, coming on March 2 in San Jose.
"It's not a good way to end up," goalie Martin Brodeur
said after being pulled in a 5-2 loss to Carolina Saturday. "Definitely it's nice to have a break now and everybody can refocus and get back at it in two weeks."
Coach Jacques Lemaire
said his team has looked tired.
"It looks like it the way we played," he said after the loss to Carolina. "If you look at the whole game, special teams made a difference for them. They scored on their power play, they get te lead, they played with more confidence. Carolina was better with the puck than we were."
There is help coming as defenseman Paul Martin
(broken left forearm) and winger David Clarkson
(broken right fibula) are expected back after the Olympic break, giving Lemaire a full roster for the first time this season.
"It will be the first time that we will have a full team, so that will be nice." he said. Without those two regular, Lemaire admitted he has used players like defensemen Andy Greene
, Colin White
and Mike Mottau
too much. Forwards Rob Niedermayer
and Jamie Langenbrunner
also have too many minutes according to Lemaire.
"We overplayed them, there's no doubt," Lemaire said. "But some of the guys will go to the Olympics and they won't get rest there. So, hopefully, the other guys will get good rest and be ready in a couple of weeks.
"We had a good first 60 (games)," Langenbrunner told reporters. "It wasn't a great ending, but we put ourselves right where we want to be. We're right up at the top. We know we haven't played our best hockey, yet. And that's a good thing. We have room for improvement. I think it's going to be great to get Paul (Martin) and (David Clarkson
) back in the lineup. We definitely miss those guys and we'll need everybody mentally refocused. It's a grind for everybody and we have to get that focus back and come back with a strong 20."
Equally happy for the break -- John Tavares
has lived through a nightmare for the last month, going 14-straight games without a goal. Call it a rude awakening for the top selection of the 2009 Entry Draft.
"I can't count how many goalposts I've hit," Tavares told the New York Times.
But as frustrating as it has been, Tavares can take some comfort from the fact he isn't the only rookie player to have gone through it.
"This is a really tough time of year," Sidney Crosby
said of Tavares. "Looking back at my rookie year, I probably was really fortunate to have the Olympic break.
"I've always thought February is maybe your most grueling month," Crosby continued. "You're a little more tired in February, and have to kind of get over that hump before (the stretch drive) and the play itself picks up, so you have to raise your game.
"When you're a little bit tired and you have to raise your game, it's not the easiest thing. It's pretty desperate hockey starting in February. Getting that Olympic break is good. You get a little time to re-energize and try to finish strong."
Tampa Bay's Steven Stamkos
also can relate. He hit a patch of rough ice during his rookie season in 2008-09, but this season has rebounded to become a standout.
"Last year, Stamkos had his struggles," Islanders coach Scott Gordon
said. "That comes with the territory. That's why I don't beat John up for his numbers. He's still only 19.
"When he doesn't score, he's doing other things that are helping the team win," Gordon said.
"I'm starting to hold my own, and I know there's a lot of areas I need to get stronger with and that will come with training." -- John Tavares
"Right now, I'm approaching every game thinking about where we are in the playoff race," Tavares said. "I'm excited for what's ahead in my career, but my focus is on now.
"I'm starting to hold my own, and I know there's a lot of areas I need to get stronger with and that will come with training," Tavares said. "I know this is a big summer for me, but I want to help get this team into the playoffs first."
New kid in town -- Jody Shelley
, acquired from San Jose for a draft pick prior to the Olympic roster freeze, replaces Donald Brashear
as the Rangers' enforcer. Brashear cleared waivers and has been assigned to the AHL.
"We still think we need, within our club, that type of role," coach John Tortorella said. "It didn't work out with Donald. It was an opportunity to fill that type of role. We've gotten great reports that he's such a great teammate in understanding his role. I'm anxious to get him into the lineup."
Shelley had heard he was being shopped by the Sharks and is happy his new destination of the big city. He had 3 assists in 36 games as well as 78 penalty minutes.
"Everybody is fired up to play at Madison Square Garden," Shelley told Andrew Gross of the Bergen Record. "You have to be on every night when you're playing in a big market like New York or Toronto. A lot of boyhood dreams are being lived out."
Around the Atlantic --
The Penguins have closed the gap on New Jersey in the Atlantic, but still are not pleased with the overall consistency of their play. "I think the frustrating thing for us is, it's not like we're searching to find what it looks like. We know what it looks like," Sidney Crosby
said. Pittsburgh had a weak second period against the Rangers Friday, gave up 2 goals and lost, 3-2 in overtime. A week ago Sunday, the Pens opened a 4-1 lead over the Capitals and lost in overtime, 5-4. "That's what can be frustrating about it," defenseman Alex Goligoski
said. "We can dominate for periods of games and then kind of lose our focus or whatever it may be, start turning pucks over or things like that, get away from our game, and it's cost us some games. We know where we can be, and we've got to work at being there. It's working on things and being really good a lot of the time." … Peter Laviolette
said Michael Leighton
has benefitted from getting extended play to show off his game, something that didn't happen when the two were together with the Carolina Hurricanes
. "He was the top-rated goalie in the American Hockey League … His numbers were outstanding, and when he was up with us, it was always the eighth game in nine nights (when he was used), back-to-back games, and we just travelled through the night to get there. Cam [Ward] got all the opportunities." … The Flyers swept a home-and-home with New Jersey last week and then did the same to the Montreal Canadiens
, completing the sweep Saturday night with a solid 6-2 win that saw Danny Briere
net a hat trick. … An injury to backup goalie Brent Johnson
left Marc-Andre Fluery as the Penguins' long goalie Saturday. The Penguins changed the practice routine because Fleury was the lone goalie. "It was a pretty good workout, but at least practice wasn't too long," Fleury said. Did they take it easy on him? "No, not really. They just want to score." … Martin Biron
, the human trade rumor, won consecutive starts for the first time in more than a year after beating Tampa Bay Saturday. "I'm fortunate that I got another game to show what I can do," Biron said. "Three goalies is not an easy situation for anybody. We all know it's not going to be this situation for the rest of the year. It's not good for the long term to have a situation like that, but we've got to do what's best for the team." … Rangers leading scorer Marian Gaborik
(right thigh laceration) and rookie defenseman Michael Del Zotto
(chest laceration) both missed New York's last game before the Olympic break a 5-2 victory against Tampa Bay. Tortorella said Del Zotto will be ready to play after the Olympic break. Gaborik will play for Slovakia. ... The Rangers placed veteran goalie Steve Valiquette
on recall waivers from Hartford and any team claiming him would be responsible for only half of the prorated portion of his $725,000 salary.