Flames OK with Crosby sidelined

Captain Jarome Iginla chats on the bench during a Calgary Flames hockey practice at the Scotiabank...

Captain Jarome Iginla chats on the bench during a Calgary Flames hockey practice at the Scotiabank Saddledome in Calgary on Thursday, October 6, 2011. (LYLE ASPINALL/QMI Agency)

STEVE MACFARLANE, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 8:15 PM ET

No Sidney Crosby, no problem.

Not so fast.

Although the Pittsburgh Penguins will be without the face of their franchise when they face the Calgary Flames Saturday at the Saddledome, the hosts know the Eastern Conference club is still a contender.

“You saw how they played without him last year. They were still one of the top teams,” Flames defenceman Mark Giordano said.

“They’re really fast and really aggressive. They get hard on the forecheck. They play a real up-and-down game. They get pucks going from their own zone to the other zone pretty quickly.

“We’ve just got to match their work ethic.”

Even matching the Penguins’ work ethic a year ago might not have been enough for the Flames when they visited Pittsburgh last season before Crosby was sidelined by consecutive concussions.

A missed penalty shot in the first period was all that kept Sid the Kid from scoring the cycle — at even strength, on the powerplay, into an empty net and on a penalty shot — in a 4-1 victory over the Flames Nov. 27.

“It was probably one of the more dominating games I’ve ever watched a player play in the league, seriously,” Giordano recalled. “He was just unbelievable.

“He was unstoppable.”

So in a way, it’s a bit of a relief the Flames don’t have to face arguably the best hockey player in the world. Giordano, though, admits it’s not great for the league that Crosby is still sidelined.

“I think it’s been the biggest news of anything, him being out. And rightfully so. That hurts our game,” Giordano said. “But in saying that, not having to play against him, I don’t want to say it’s a plus, but ... “

But it’s definitely a plus.

Especially when you consider the fact Evgeni Malkin — no slouch himself when talking about the game’s most talented players — seems motivated to rebound from an injury-shortened campaign that followed a couple of disappointing years statistically.

“They’re a team that plays extremely fast. Malkin’s gonna be back, and you look at their defencemen, they move the puck extremely well,” Flames winger Alex Tanguay said of the Pens.

“They’re a skating team. They’re gonna be in your face. They’re gonna be aggressive.”

“He’s a top player,” Giordano said of Crosby. “But they still have a lot of great players over there.”

Malkin’s expected to be joined by Steve Sullivan and James Neal on the top line. Jordan Staal centres the second unit, with Tyler Kennedy and Chris Kunitz on his flanks. Matt Cooke, Pascal Dupuis and Mark Letestu have been skating together, with Joe Vitale, Craig Adams and Arron Asham on the fourth line.

Opening their season against the Vancouver Canucks, the Penguins game Thursday night offered the Flames a sneak peek of the competition for Saturday.

But rearguard Cory Sarich figures it will be the Flames’ play that dictates the outcome Saturday.

“Over the course of last year, we learned that we wait, we play the other team’s speed, read off them, it doesn’t bode well for us,” the defenceman said.

“We need to be pushing the play, pushing our game at them. If we do that, that’ll be the best option for us.”


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