PITTSBURGH -- As the focal point of the Pittsburgh Penguins' offense, Sidney Crosby
has become inured to the task of facing the best checker the other team has to offer.
"You have a game plan and you try to stick with it -- whether it is individually, or as a team," Crosby said after Friday's optional practice. "For me, I don't try to change too much. I don't try to change what I am doing; that's what he probably wants me to do.
"For me, I have to go to same areas and, if anything, you have to increase your battle level because you know there is a guy that's going be checking you pretty tightly."
At times, in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Finals, the players trying to check Crosby were Matt Cullen or Rod Brind'Amour. Occasionally, it was power against power as Crosby was deployed against the Eric Staal line.
Still, Crosby scored the game-opening goal and added an assist on a goal by Max Talbot in Pittsburgh's 7-4 victory Thursday. He finished with four shots and was dangerous all night.
Cullen, in particular had some problems against Crosby, taking two penalties. The first was a high-sticking foul -- "It was a close miss there," Crosby said. "It was a pretty good whack for sure" -- committed as Crosby wheeled around behind the net, while the second was a restraining foul early in the third with the score tied at 4-4.
It's unclear whom Carolina coach Paul Maurice will deploy against Crosby's line as the series shifts to Raleigh and the Hurricanes enjoy the privilege of making the last change in personnel after a stoppage in play.
Maurice could stay with the speedy Cullen or opt for Brind'Amour, the cagey veteran. Plus, he will try to match up certain defensemen against the Crosby line to help in the shutdown process.
The matchup process becomes even more difficult because the Penguins double-shift Crosby, using him regularly as the fourth-line center between Craig Adams
and Miroslav Satan because of Pittsburgh's decision to dress just 11 forwards.
Adams, a checking line center for long stretches of his career, pays attention to how teams try to stop Crosby, as well as second-line center Evgeni Malkin
. He does not envy anyone tasked with that duty.
"It's really tough," Adams said. "It used to be with a small, skilled guy, you wanted to take away his time and space, get in his face, put your body on him. With a big guy, you want to stay in front of him, not let him muscle you for position. Sid's not a big guy, but he's so strong; so you are caught in between."
Regardless of what Maurice and the Hurricanes do to try to limit Crosby's effectiveness, don't expect Pittsburgh coach Dan Bylsma to work too hard to get Crosby away from any particular matchup
"I'm not a coach that will take off certain lines just to get another matchup that we think is best for our team," Bylsma said.
With Crosby's body of work and proven skill set, Bylsma knows he can trust his young captain in any situation. Late in Game 2, Crosby was asked to take a number of key faceoffs because he was performing the best of Pittsburgh's top four faceoff men.
That was usually the situation that saw Crosby pitted against the Staal line late in the contest.
But other than that, Crosby was on a pretty regular rotation during his 23-shift performance Thursday night that produced 19 minutes and 46 seconds of ice time, the most among Pittsburgh forwards in Game 2.
"We try to keep putting our guys in the best positions to have success, whether it is defensively or offensively," Bylsma said. "But we have a lot of trust in our guys and we have a lot of guys that can play in different situations. You don't want to take your team out of the flow, as well, in terms of chasing matchups."
Especially when you have a talent like Crosby capable of ruining the best laid matchup plans of any opponent.
Author: Shawn P. Roarke | NHL.com Managing Editor