has a different perspective on Sidney Crosby
than the rest of his New York Islanders
teammates. They only know him as an opponent -- someone they have to shut down. Eaton is an Islander this season, but for the previous four, he was a teammate of No. 87 with the Pittsburgh Penguins
He had a rink-side seat as Crosby grew into the best player in the NHL.
"From the first year I was with him until now, he was a world-class player," Eaton told NHL.com after Wednesday's morning skate, hours before the Penguins' visit to Nassau Coliseum. "With his work ethic, time is only going to make him better. He's always the hardest worker -- he's constantly working on his game. Put a few more years, combined with that work ethic, and you see the result as it is now."
The results this season have been almost unreal. Crosby enters the game having scored at least one point in his last 25 games, the longest streak in the NHL since a 30-gamer by Quebec's Mats Sundin
in 1992-93. He extended the streak Tuesday with a spectacular 2-goal, 2-assist performance in the Penguins' 6-3 victory against the Atlanta Thrashers
One thing that has impressed Eaton is Crosby's drive to work on his weaknesses. Many players are happy to try to build up their strong points, but not as many have the drive to shore up areas in which they aren't as strong.
"Playing with him, you see him out there after practice working on faceoffs," Eaton said. "You'll see him out there before practice working on his shot. His work ethic is second to none, and combined with the God-given talent he has, it's made him the dangerous player that he is today."
Crosby especially has been dangerous against the Islanders -- in his 32 games against the Isles, he's piled up 18 goals and 62 points. That will make shutting him down, or at least slowing him down, a key to any hopes the Islanders have of continuing their improved play -- they are 4-1-1 in their last six games after going winless in 20 of 21 games (1-17-3)
"From the first year I was with him until now, he was a world-class player. With his work ethic, time is only going to make him better. He's always the hardest worker -- he's constantly working on his game. Put a few more years, combined with that work ethic, and you see the result as it is now."
-- Mark Eaton
"He's hot, and now the whole team is playing well," Isles interim coach Jack Capuano
said of Crosby. "They have a great transition game -- they get offense not only from their forwards, but from their defense, as well. We have to play sound defensively."
They'll be trying to do that without James Wisniewski
, arguably their best defenseman so far this season. Wisniewski and his 21 points were sent to Montreal on Wednesday for draft picks.
"He was a big veteran presence back there," said rookie defenseman Travis Hamonic
, who will be counted on to fill some of the minutes that Wisniewski, who was averaging a team-high 23:14 per game, vacates. "He brought a sense of leadership and calmness on the ice. Whenever a player like that isn't in your lineup anymore, you know there's going to be a void to fill."
Having to fill it against Crosby and one of the highest-scoring team in the Eastern Conference will be a major challenge for a team that will dress three defensemen playing in their first or second NHL seasons. Hamonic, a 20-year-old who was called up last month, will be facing Crosby for the first time in his career.
"Obviously, it's a challenge," he said. "You talk about wanting to be the best player, you've got to beat the best player. Sid's playing pretty well right now. I'm just going to go out there and approach it like any other game. There's a lot of high-end talent on that team -- not just Sid, there's a lot of guys. I'm just going to try to play my game against them, try to be physical and use my body. Hopefully we'll keep him in check.
"We have confidence in all the guys on our back end. We're ready for the challenge."