Pittsburgh Penguins center Sidney Crosby handles the puck under pressure from Toronto Maple Leafs defenseman Dion Phaneuf during the second period at the CONSOL Energy Center on Dec 16, 2013 in Pittsburgh, PA, USA. (Charles LeClaire/USA TODAY Sports)
Sidney Crosby is now in his 10th NHL season and the Maple Leafs still haven’t figured a way to stop him.
Of course, neither has anyone else in the NHL.
“He’s pretty special,” Leafs star Phil Kessel said of Crosby. “He does it every year. He’s the best player in the world.”
Crosby — the reigning NHL scoring champ and Hart Trophy holder — and the Pittsburgh Penguins bring their new brand of uptempo offence to the Air Canada Centre on Saturday night to face the Toronto Maple Leafs.
The Penguins beat the Leafs two out of three games last year. The Leafs did well to hold Crosby to three points in those three games, well under the point-and-a-half pace he normally has against the Leafs. He has 43 points in 28 career games against Toronto.
“He’s got a different kind of shot; it’s quick,” said Kessel, again about Crosby. “You see it all the time. It sneaks through goalies, he beats them quick. It’s a pretty good shot, it’s in the back of the net before you even see it.”
Goalie Jonathan Bernier, who’ll likely get the start against the Penguins on Saturday night, spent Thursday night watching Crosby score twice and add an assist in a 6-4 winover Anaheim, in the Penguins’ home opener.
Bernier is looking forward to staring down Crosby and some of his just-as-dangerous teammates like Evgeni Malkin, Chris Kunitz and Pascal Dupuis.
“It’s fun. It’s a good challenge to have. As a goalie you can’t have the mindset where you’re scared of these guys,” said Bernier. “You’ve got to welcome that challenge and be ready for those guys and at the same time, in the game, it happens so quick.
“Sometimes, you don’t even have the chance to see who’s coming or who’s shooting. They’re good players, but they make mistakes, too.”
Bernier hasn’t beaten the Penguins (0-1-1) in his career. He has a .910 save percentage and 3.39 goals-against average versus Crosby and Co.
Bernier’s backup, James Reimer, has a remarkable record against Pittsburgh (4-0-2), with a .921 save percentage and 2.27 goals-against average. Nothing is for sure, but Reimer will probably get the start Sunday in New York in the second of back-to-back games.
He says the key to battling a team like the Penguins is focus.
“You just have to be ready,” said Reimer. “If you’re a little too relaxed, or you’re not focused for a split second, then boom, the game is over. He (Crosby) can put the puck past you. It’s one of those things where you really have to respect his skill and trust your talent.”
Bernier says there’s only so much a goalie can do against a talent like Crosby.
“He’s an all-around player,” said Bernier. “He can make really nice passes as much as he can hit that spot on the net. That’s why it’s hard on goalies. Sometime you have guys who are better at shooting than passing. But he is an overall guy that can do both.
“You can’t be too deep. You can’t cheat too much. You’ve got to face him the right way. If he makes that great pass, you have to hope your defenceman is going to be there.”
Of course, the Leaf plan isn’t simply to watch Crosby. The likes of Nazem Kadri and Leo Komarov will probably take their turns trying to get under his skin, get him off his game.
Coach Randy Carlyle will certainly be matching lines, an advantage he has at home. That will mean getting captain Dion Phaneuf out against Crosby as much as possible.
“With Sid, you’ve got to play him hard,” said Phaneuf. “When you play him hard and try and limit his time and space, you can do a good job of making him move the puck and not hold on to it and create chances.
“When you give it time, he’s going to create things. Play him hard. He’s the top guy in the league. Has been for a long time. He’s dangerous when he has time to make plays. If you give him that time, he’s going to make the play”
And the Leafs’ overall plan is to simply control the puck more.
“We have to play good defence and turn it into good offence,” said Kessel. “If we have the puck, they can’t go on offence.”
Crosby ready for second-round with Kadri as Leafs, Penguins face off at ACC -