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Preview of NHL to come, Crosby stands out among the best

NHL.com @NHL

DALLAS (AP) -Sidney Crosby was surrounded on the ice by the rest of the best players in the NHL. And the teenage All-Star still stood out among them all.

Get used to it.

In the preamble to his first All-Star game appearance, Crosby scored on two of his three shots in the individual shootout - the final event - to give the Eastern Conference a win over the West in the skills competition Tuesday night.

"I've only seen him on highlights. It's great to watch a kid like that," said Anaheim's Teemu Selanne, the 10-time All-Star who lost to Crosby in the last shootout. "He's got the full package."

The main event comes Wednesday night when Crosby, the 19-year-old forward from the Pittsburgh Penguins who is the league's top scorer and vote-getter, starts for the East in the NHL's first All-Star game since 2004.

Consider that Crosby's 72 points this season are five more than anybody else. And defense has always been almost nonexistent in All-Star games - even before the new post-lockout rules put in place to increase scoring chances.

Plus, Crosby will be starting on the same line with 21-year-old Moscow native Alex Ovechkin of the Washington Capitals. Ovechkin beat out Crosby for rookie of the year honors last season and now has 65 points and 29 goals, one off the league lead.

"It's fun to watch the highlights every night because you know there will be a lot from both of them," Ottawa's Dany Heatley said. Happily their teammate this week, Heatley added, "It gives us a good chance."

In the skills competition, Crosby excelled in the only part of the game that he has really struggled. He is 0-for-5 in shootouts for Pittsburgh in the regular season.

"It was fun to be in that situation. I didn't ask for it, but I liked it," Crosby said. "Especially with all the ones that I missed this season, it was nice."

Crosby also scored on his only shootout attempt in the team portion, midway through the nine-event competition, to tie the score.

The competition was tied 10-10 after Vancouver goalie Roberto Luongo stopped all four shots in the final team shootout. But Luongo, who has a 2.38 goals against average this season, couldn't stop Crosby from scoring on his first two shots in the individual competition.

"I'm competitive," Crosby said. "I want to win with the game on the line like that."

One of the shots stopped by Luongo in the final team shootout was by Ovechkin.

While their skills on the ice very evident, Crosby and Ovechkin also have stood out on the big stage this week. They have flashed their grace and charm while constantly being asked about being the new faces of the NHL.

During the primary media availability with the All-Star teams Monday, Crosby and Ovechkin were the only players selected to meet reporters in a group session. Sitting side-by-side was the exciting new duo that could help boost the NHL's TV ratings and generate more buzz.

Maybe even the Gretzky and Lemieux of their generation.

"Those guys," Selanne said, "could do a lot of damage."

Asked about trying to bring the game to a wider audience, Ovechkin smiled, turned to Crosby and said, "Can you answer?" And Crosby delivered smoothly, giving a thoughtful response that included the line, "We're going to do our best to make that possible."

Then came the subject of the league's MVP thus far. Ovechkin leaned right into the microphone and said, "Crosby!" Crosby laughed, started giving a politically correct answer about there being "too many guys right now," then broke into a smile and said, "I mean, the best answer would be Ovechkin right now, right?"

Still, some NHL fans haven't even been able to watch Crosby and Ovechkin play - something that won't change yet. The NHL's board of governors decided Tuesday to stick to the unbalanced schedule that limits teams to one visit every three years to some cities.

Commissioner Gary Bettman said the league will complete the three-year cycle which goes through the 2007-08 season before making any changes to the schedule.

"I think it will be a final discussion for a while on the schedule," Bettman said.

The board voted 19-11 to return to the pre-lockout schedule with six division games instead of eight and ensuring that each team visits every city at least once every two years. But the measure needed a two-thirds majority, or 20 votes, to pass.

The board did approve Montreal as the site of the 2009 All-Star game, an event that will come during the season when the Canadiens celebrate their 100th anniversary. Montreal has hosted a league-high 13 All-Star games, but the last was in 1993.

In the YoungStars game Tuesday night, New Jersey second-year forward Zach Parise had two goals and four assists to lead the East squad to a 9-8 victory.

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