Great players have that sense of impeccability which separates them from other players. It’s what makes them who they are. They know when their competition has raised the stakes and they respond accordingly. Sidney Crosby
has this indescribable quality and was it ever on display against the New York Islanders at Mellon Arena on Tuesday night. In an opening act before Thursday’s headlining performance against rival Alexander Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals, Crosby stole the show with two goals and four assists in a 6-4 defeat of the Islanders.
Crosby’s two goals place him into a tie with San Jose’s Patrick Marleau for most in the National Hockey League with 32, while his 63 total points move him within four points of NHL scoring leader Henrik Sedin of the Vancouver Canucks, and put him just two points behind Ovechkin, who had one assist tonight in a 3-2 defeat of the Detroit Red Wings.
The caliber of hockey being played by both should make for a special evening when the two square off for the first time since Game 7. Crosby enters the game with 14 points (8G-6A) over his past seven games while Ovechkin has notched 15 points (4G-11A) in the same period. Crosby currently holds a 32-30 lead on Ovechkin in the race for the Rocket Richard Trophy, which goes to the league’s top goal scorer.
Before he could worry about what lies ahead on Thursday, Crosby had some business to attend against the Islanders. He got the Penguins off and running in the first period of what would become another vintage Crosby performance by slamming home a loose puck to the left of New York goaltender Dwayne Roloson after Bill Guerin knocked the biscuit his way.
Crosby made what his teammates called his best play of the night with the Penguins on the power play in the second period and looking to build upon a 2-0 lead.
Sergei Gonchar found Crosby skating through the slot and his fake shot froze the entire Islanders’ PK unit, allowing him an opening to slip a backhand pass right on the stick of Guerin in the near circle. Guerin one-timed Crosby’s feed off Roloson and into the back of the twine to give the Penguins a 3-0 advantage.
“That pass he made to Billy was the best play he made on the night in my opinion,” Brooks Oprik said.
As beautiful as that setup was, Crosby was far from finished.
He would answer an Andy Sutton goal which got New York on the board with another tap-in goal from close range after the rubber found his stick once again around the cage. This time Pascal Dupuis
slid a rebound to Crosby standing to the right of Roloson and the Penguins captain floated a shot over his glove for his 32nd goal of the season.
Orpik couldn’t believe Crosby was able to score twice from a combined eight feet away from the net with zero resistance from New York.
“The puck just kind of seems to find him,” Orpik said. “On the first goal I think their guy hit it to him. Those other ones – it just seems like the puck just finds him some nights.
“That is not by luck. He finds those soft little areas where he kind of loses himself in traffic and guys can’t pick him up. You’d think they would keep an eye on that guy but I guess that’s easier said than done.”
Speaking of done, that was a word which could not be used to describe Crosby’s night as he picked up assists on both of Evgeni Malkin
’s goals in the third period to help the Penguins other superstar pick up his second hat trick in the past three weeks.
After the game Crosby chose to praise the efforts of his linemates, Guerin and Dupuis, and the fact that some nights the pucks go in more often than on others, rather than anything he did different with his game.
“You always have to look at your line,” he said. “As a team you always want to get pressure. Our line was benefiting from the pressure we were generating. These nights just happen where the puck happens to go in for you. You have to give yourself a chance and I think our line did that by playing hard.”
Crosby’s huge night comes four days after Ovechkin raised the stakes on him with a five-point effort against the Toronto Maple Leafs on Jan. 15 with a goal and a career-high four assists.
“It would be crazy if those guys really thought about that and it made that much of a difference to be able to one-up him a couple nights later,” Mike Rupp said. “That shows how impressive and how talented they are.”
Crosby’s six-point effort was the second of his career, with his first occurring against the Philadelphia Flyers on Dec. 13, 2006 when Crosby picked up a goal and five helpers.
Fittingly, given the spectacular showing each gave during the Penguins’ seven-game series win over the Ovechkin and the Capitals during the 2009 Eastern Conference Semifinals, both superstars head into Thursday’s marquee matchup at Mellon Arena at the top of their games.
“Obviously that is something that the media gives a lot of attention to but you have to know that those guys want to be better than the next one,” Rupp said. “They are competitors. Tonight was a night where Sid had a big night and he will use that as a springboard for Thursday.”
Crosby was the best player on the ice on this night and Penguins fans should expect more of the same when Ovechkin and Co. invade the Igloo on Thursday night. Crosby said he is looking forward to the meeting.
“It’s going to be a big game,” Crosby said. “We all get excited for that. We know the rivalry between the two teams. That is an exciting one.”