In his first visit to the arena Wayne Gretzky
once called home, Sidney Crosby
put on a performance The Great One would have admired.
Crosby was almost invisible during the first two-plus periods, as the Edmonton Oilers kept the Pittsburgh Penguins off the scoreboard for more than 46 minutes. But Maxime Talbot’s goal at 6:05 ( 700K ) got the Pens’ offense untracked — and then Crosby took over, setting up three goals in just over seven minutes as Pittsburgh rallied for a 4-2 victory at Rexall Place on Wednesday night.
Crosby has been treated like royalty by throngs of fans since arriving in Edmonton. The 20-year-old got a warm ovation from the fans when he came out for the pre-game skate.
"It's great to come on the road and get a welcome like that. You never expect it, so it's nice," he said.
But Edmonton fans probably weren’t as kindly disposed toward Crosby after he put on a Gretzky-like exhibition in the third period to end the Oilers’ three-game winning streak. Crosby set up rookie defenseman Kris Letang’s tying goal at 6:26 ( 700K ), fed defenseman Mark Eaton, whose shot deflected off Colby Armstrong and into the net at 10:57 ( 700K ), and threaded the needle with a cross-ice pass that Ryan Whitney put into a half-empty net for a power-play goal at 13:30 ( 700K ).
“We had good control of the game through two periods, then fell apart in the third,” Edmonton center Fernando Pisani said. “He made some plays. You can’t let up on him. He can turn the game around in a couple of shifts.”
The Oilers dominated the first two periods, shutting down Crosby by limiting his time and space while getting two goals of their own.
Robert Nilsson put Edmonton ahead at 5:39 of the opening period ( 700K ). Nilsson was standing in the lower right circle when he took Joni Pitkanen’s slick pass from the left point and ripped it past Marc-Andre Fleury for his second goal of the season.
With goalie Dwayne Roloson looking sharp, the Oilers continued to control the tempo and made it 2-0 late in the second when Ales Hemsky circled the net and controlled the puck in the lower right circle before sending a cross-ice pass to Shawn Horcoff, who buried a quick wrist shot at 17:22 ( 700K ) for his 11th of the season.
“We were all right after two periods, though we hadn’t played our best,” Edmonton center Jarret Stoll said.
Neither had the Penguins.
“As a team, we didn’t forecheck well — I don’t think we had our legs under us for the first two periods,” Crosby said. “In the third, we skated a bit and capitalized on (our opportunities).”
Those opportunities began when Talbot drove to the net, dived and jammed Evgeni Malkin’s rebound past Roloson.
Then came what Oilers fans had feared — Crosby putting on a show at the expense of their team.
First, he carried the puck down the right side into the Oilers’ zone before pulling up and hitting Letang, who beat Roloson from the right circle just 21 seconds after Talbot’s goal. In a span of 21 seconds, the Oilers’ two-goal lead had disappeared.
“We can’t give up two goals on two shifts,” Stoll said.
The tie didn’t last long. Crosby muscled the puck out of a pile of players behind the net and fed Eaton at the left point. Eaton’s shot hit Armstrong and sailed past Roloson with 9:03 remaining.
But Crosby wasn’t done. With the Pens on a power play, he controlled the puck in the far right circle and zipped a pass through the Oilers’ defense to Whitney, who had half a net to shoot at and didn’t miss, giving Pittsburgh an insurance goal.
“We gave him some opportunities and he capitalized,” said Oilers coach Craig MacTavish, who played with Gretzky during the Oilers’ glory days in the 1980s. “We made some mental mistakes, and great players — when you make mental mistakes on the ice, they expose you.”
Added Marty Reasoner, one of the Oilers’ centers charged with trying to shut down Crosby: “We did a good job on him for the first two periods. Then we fell apart in the third.”
For Crosby, his first appearance in Edmonton was a special night — especially the way it turned out.
“It’s a special situation any time you go to a place like this,” he said. “I play every night the same way, but on a stage like this, you want to do well.
“It all comes down to execution,” he added of the Penguins’ third-period rally. “We did a good job taking advantage of the opportunities we had.”
Crosby gave the full house at Rexall Place something to remember him by.
“You can’t shut him down for three periods,” said Pittsburgh forward and ex-Oiler Georges Laraque. “He’s such a great player. He never takes a night off. He got that one for us.”