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Oilers devise game plan for Crosby

by Marc Ciampa / Edmonton Oilers
Pittsburgh Penguins' Sidney Crosby celebrates his first-period goal against Dallas Stars goalie Mike Smith during an NHL hockey game in Pittsburgh on Friday, Nov. 30, 2007. Crosby is his generation's version of Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux to countless hockey players and fans in his native Canada, yet he has never played in half of his homeland's six NHL cities.

After 186 career National Hockey League games, 20-year-old Pittsburgh Penguins captain Sidney Crosby finally takes a tour of Western Canada beginning tonight with Edmonton.In preparation for tonight’s game, Oilers head coach Craig MacTavish was impressed with some of Crosby’s recent exploits.

“We had a clip of him in Toronto where he lost his stick and that didn’t matter. He was kicking the puck around, battling guys and kicked it back to where his stick was and then he had the stick and the puck.

“That never-say-die attitude is a good example, not only to his own teammates but also the opponents that he plays.”

So what do the Oilers need to do in order to be successful tonight? MacTavish said it’s a simple strategy – one they’ve employed many times before as recently as last game –but it will have to be executed to perfection.

“The strategy is not a lot different than what you’d use against Kopitar. He’s more effective doing it and it’s going to be harder to employ but the strategy is effectively very similar,” MacTavish noted.

“You know he’s going to turn the corner and get it to the net a couple times but we need support and you’ve got to be ready to soften off your own coverage to help out on him going to the net,” he continued.

  • Penguins’ Captain Sidney Crosby, Oilers GM Kevin Lowe, Horcoff, Roloson, Gagner, Gilbert & MacTavish talk about Crosby and his first-ever visit to Edmonton. 700K
  • Horcoff, Roloson, Penner, Gagner, Gilbert & MacTavish talk about facing the Penguins tonight. 700K
“Try to get as many guys in those dangerous ice positions as you can because you know he’s going to try and pass it through those dangerous seams or he’s going to try and take it to the net as best he can.”

MacTavish also played with Gretzky for a number of years and drawed some comparisons between the two.

“A benefit to having a guy like that in the building is seeing the competitiveness and drive that he has. Much like Wayne when he was here, the skill set is spectacular on both those players but it’s as much the mental makeup and competitiveness and drive. Every shift is played with more intensity than the shift before. Whether he had three goals, Gretz was always trying to get the fourth one and Crosby’s the same way. He’s got the same sense of destiny that Wayne has had since he was 12 years old.”

19 years older than Crosby, Oilers goaltender Dwayne Roloson will be facing number 87 for the first time in his career tonight. He agrees with MacTavish’s assessment on how to stop the phenom.

“He’s determined to get the puck no matter what. We as a team have to control him down low and limit his line’s chances,” said Roloson.

Oilers rookie Sam Gagner knows more than anyone how difficult it is for an 18 year old to play in today’s NHL. It will be his first time on the ice with Crosby tonight as well.

“What he’s done at such a young age is unbelievable. Obviously, it’s hard to come into this league and be successful right away. The biggest thing for me is his strength on the puck and determination with battles. He rarely loses a battle out there and at such a young age that’s hard to do.”

And as MacTavish mentioned, having Crosby in the building will only motivate and teach players like Gagner to be better players down the road.

Oilers goalie Dwayne Roloson plays Crosby for the first time in his career tonight. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, John Ulan)
“As a player, you like to take things from everybody that’s successful in this league and he’s done a lot of things to make himself successful. You’ve got to learn from a guy like that and try to take some of the things he’s doing and implement them in your game.”

Last season, Crosby had 120 points to lead the league and scoring and won the Hart Trophy as NHL’s Most Valuable Player. The year before, he cracked the 100-point barrier as an 18 year old. Tonight, Oilers fans get to see him for the first time at Rexall Place.

“It’s exciting. For a lot of us, to come to Canada and play some different teams is also exciting but especially with the tradition the team has here.”

Although it will be exciting for Crosby to finally set foot in the arena Wayne Gretzky built, in the end he’s trying to think of it as just another game tonight.

“I try not to have too many expectations. There’s a lot of guessing going on if you’re doing that whereas if you just approach it the same way it’s a lot easier on your mind. I put enough pressure on myself to do well so when I come to a new place I try not to get too caught up in everything.”

Oilers general manager Kevin Lowe played with Gretzky during the 1980s and made some comparisons between him and Crosby following today’s morning skate.

“His skating and balance and strength is incredible,” said Lowe. “Wayne’s turning ability was very unique and he was very elusive that way. Sidney has that turning ability but he also has that power needed to fight off checks in this day and age of how the game is played.”

One Oiler who won’t be playing tonight due to injury is Dick Tarnstrom. He spent some time playing with Crosby during number 87’s rookie season of 2005-06.

Shawn Horcoff outshone Crosby, scoring three times the only other time that Edmonton met Pittsburgh back on January 11, 2006. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)
“He’s a good player – probably the best player in the league right now,” Tarnstrom remarked. “It’s an opportunity for the fans out here to see him play.

“When I played with him, it was his first year. He just came into the league. He has great speed and works hard every practice and every game. Whatever he does out there, he does with a purpose.”

The only other time that the Oilers met the Penguins, Crosby was held without a point in a 3-1 win for Edmonton. Shawn Horcoff scored three goals that night in what has been his only career NHL hat trick to-date.

“You always want to play against the best and measure yourself against the best players. It’s exciting for the players and fans when they come out west,” Horcoff said, adding that he was amazed back on January 11, 2006 watching a then-18-year-old Crosby handle the puck.

“I remember he had the puck for one shift, for the whole shift. You felt helpless and couldn’t do anything. He was only 18 at the time and I felt he was going to be real dominant.”
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