Crosby tests himself against opposition’s best

Pittsburgh Penguins second-year center Sidney Crosby is getting drawn into the game within the game that is reserved for the NHL’s best.
Crosby, who leads the league with 65 points, is matched against opponents’ top skill players every game — either directly, in line matchups, or in the form of anticipation and expectation.
For two Penguins’ games in the last week, that meant top players such as Crosby and teammate Evgeni Malkin squaring off against Tampa Bay’s Martin St. Louis, Vincent Lecavalier and Brad Richards. Wednesday night, it was against Florida’s leading scorer, Olli Jokinen, who had a hat trick in the Panthers’ 5-2 win in Sunrise, Fla.
“It’s not all about money with some of the top players,” Tampa Bay coach John Tortorella said. “It’s about who is better than who. They may be buddies off the ice, but, when that game’s being played, especially the skill guys, I don’t think they want to be outdone by anybody.
“I think with Mario (Lemieux), when we were playing against him, and with (Jaromir) Jagr and players like that, yeah. I think eventually it’s going to happen with Crosby and Malkin.”
Crosby, who has a connection with the Lightning’s Richard through his junior team of Rimouski, is starting to get caught up some in the skill-on-skill matchups within games.
“Maybe a bit,” he said. “It’s fun when you play against guys you grew up watching. Obviously, you want to win, but it’s exciting. I know Brad a little bit. It’s not a fierce competition or anything like that, but, at the same time, it’s fun. You want to see great plays and skill in the game. That’s what people get when they see us play.”
Florida coach Jacques Martin said it extends beyond the players. He expects his best players to outdo the other teams’ stars.
“Your best players ought to be your best players every night,” Martin said. “When you’re playing a team like Pittsburgh, you’re looking for players like Jokinen to outplay players like Crosby and Malkin.
“I think it’s an extra motivation.”
Tortorella thinks it’s more than a little.
“I’ve always said, your best players are going to win or lose hockey games,” he said. “I just don’t think they want to be outdone.”
Shelly Anderson writes for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.