Sharks center Logan Couture, left, faces off against Pittsburgh Penguins captain Sidney Crosby in Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Final at SAP Center in June. (Josie Lepe/Bay Area News Group)
SAN JOSE — Logan Couture has always had tremendous respect for Sidney Crosby, even when the Sharks center caused a stir during in the Stanley Cup Final by saying the Pittsburgh Penguins captain cheated during faceoffs.
But as he got to know Crosby off the ice in September when they were teammates at the World Cup, Couture found a new level of admiration. He saw first-hand in hockey-mad Toronto how Crosby deals with being arguably the most recognizable player in the sport.
“A guy like him, he gets bugged everywhere he goes,” Couture said Friday, “and the way he handles it and carries himself was special.”
The Sharks will face Crosby for the first time Saturday since he and his teammates carried the Cup around the SAP Center ice on June 12. Crosby was out with a concussion for the first meeting between the Sharks and Penguins — a 3-2 San Jose defeat in Pittsburgh on Oct. 20. But the superstar returned five days later and has reasserted himself as the best player in the game.
Crosby had two goals for the Penguins in their 3-2 overtime loss to the Los Angeles Kings on Thursday, bringing his season total to six goals and two assists in just five games.
Oddly enough, about the only area of Crosby’s game that’s inconsistent right now are his faceoffs. He’s 48 of 105 in the circle.
That wasn’t the case in the first two games of the Cup final. Crosby won 9 of 17 draws in Game 1 and a remarkable 17 of 24 in Game 2, in which he also won 11 of 16 in the offensive zone.
Couture was surrounded by reporters after the second game inside the visitor’s dressing room at what was then Consol Energy Center. In his usually candid manner, Couture called out Crosby for his tactics in the faceoff circle.
Asked how this was happening, Couture didn’t waver.
“He times them, and yet they don’t kick him out for some reason,” Couture said. “Probably because of who he is.”
Couture took some heat for the remarks, with the prevailing thought being that if you’re not cheating on faceoffs, you’re probably not trying hard enough. Couture himself came back two days later, saying that he also tries to gain an advantage, if sometimes with methods outside the rulebook.
If it was gamesmanship on Couture’s part, it worked. Not only did the Sharks capture Game 3 on Joonas Donskoi’s dramatic overtime goal, but the Sharks won 52.8 percent of the faceoffs in games 3, 4, and 5.
In an interview with the Toronto Sun published in early September before the start of the World Cup, Crosby said of Couture, “Maybe we’ll take a few (draws) against each other just to lighten the mood. It’ll be fun.”
“I guess at this point, since we’re going to be teammates, it will be brought up,” Crosby said. “I think that was just the heat of the moment. That’s the great thing about hockey.”
There was certainly no animosity during the month-long tournament, as Crosby, Couture, Brent Burns, Joe Thornton and Marc-Edouard Vlasic all came together to help Canada capture the event.
“We hung out quite a bit,” Couture said. “(Crosby) hung out with the guys from the Sharks actually quite a bit. We got along well, him, all of the other guys on our team. Great guy. Humble. Down to Earth. Easy to get along with.”
When Couture popped off, the Sharks were in a 2-0 hole in the Cup final after Conor Sheary’s shot beat goalie Martin Jones 2:35 into overtime to give the Penguins a 2-1 win.
A handful of Sharks players up until that point weren’t quite meeting expectations. So intentionally or not, Couture — with the emotions still raw — thrust himself into the spotlight just minutes after Crosby won the draw that led to Sheary’s goal.
Couture’s comments after Game 2 of the Cup final may have been strategic. At least that’s what Couture said Friday.
“We’re down 2-0. We’re in a tough spot as a team. Some guys were struggling on our team,” Couture said. “We all got all you guys to write about something else. Worked out pretty well.
“Won the next game. Unfortunately, we couldn’t win the series.”