Crosby doesn't worry Oilers

ROBERT TYCHKOWSKI -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 9:15 AM ET

PITTSBURGH -- Marc-Andre Bergeron says it's no big deal.

Michael Peca says it's just another game against just another centre.

And perennial Norris Trophy candidate Chris Pronger looks at you like you're half a moron for asking if he's losing sleep over an 18-year-old rookie.

The Oilers' first date with Penguins phenom Sidney Crosby might be a big deal for fans back in Edmonton, but it's barely making a ripple in the dressing room.

Curious, yes. Excited, nervous, worried or counting the minutes until they're actually on the same ice with a legend-in-the-making? Hardly.

"I'll be honest, you asking me about him is the first time I've thought about it," said Peca, who's had the challenge of shutting down just about every great player in the league over the last decade.

"It's the same as it is for everybody. Just like everybody else, you have to play him physically and be hard on him, try and take time and space away."

With a schedule that pits them against Joe Sakic and Jarome Iginla 16 times a season, Bergeron says the Oilers have faced enough high-end talent that they shouldn't have to feel intimidated or starry-eyed in any situation.

'NOT AS GOOD AS JAROMIR JAGR'

"I've been playing against Markus Naslund and other first-liners, who have a lot more experience and savvy than he does," said Bergeron, just a sophomore himself.

"Obviously he's a threat and you have to pay attention to him. He's under a lot of pressure and he's been responding really well, but right now he's not as good as Jaromir Jagr or the top first-liners."

They're not trying to suggest that Crosby is anything but the real deal, like former St. Louis goalie Mike Liut once did to Wayne Gretzky before 99 lit him up for five goals the next day. They understand what he, or any of the NHL's elite, can do if you're not ready.

"Even though he's a rookie, you have to honour him with a lot of respect," said Peca.

"We've seen enough highlights of the guy scoring goals and setting up plays - you can't take that for granted. He's proven to be a game-breaker. He's very strong on the puck, he controls it incredibly and he makes plays. It'll be a tough test, but it's never a one-man effort, it's always a five-man effort."

There's little doubt Crosby, Alex Ovechkin and Marek Svatos will be dominant, dynamic players for years to come. From that perspective, the Oilers are interested in seeing what all the fuss is about.

"I haven't seen too much of him other than highlights because there's always a Western Conference game going on when Pittsburgh plays," said head coach Craig MacTavish, one of the game's better checkers in his day. "Obviously he's made the transition from junior superstar to NHL star in a hurry. And I like the fact he's getting involved emotionally in the games. I really believe you have to play the game with emotion to get the most out of your ability, and it looks like he's going to have that component.

"Early on in your career you can get a little distracted by it, but the good thing is it's there for him."

SEEING A LOT OF CROSBY

Pronger, with his usual 30 minutes a night, will be seeing a lot of Crosby. And chances are Crosby will be seeing a lot of Pronger.

"When you play those guys with that type of speed and that type of skill, you just go on experience based on how you've played them in the past," said the six-foot-six defenceman, who did a pretty good job against Mats Sundin last game.

"Deny them the puck, deny them time and space. Guys can get frustrated that way when they're not allowed to do what they want to do out there.

"You obviously want to see how good (Crosby) is, but at the same time, tough luck, you're coming into the wrong area now."

PAIN IN THE NET: MacTavish feels for Crosby after watching the rookie get razzed by Ilya Kovalchuk when the Atlanta sniper scored with Crosby in the box.

A few years back, after MacTavish called him for an illegal curve, Kovalchuk came out of the box, scored with a legal stick and then taunted MacT at the Oilers' bench.

"I saw Kovalchuk give it to (Crosby)," said MacTavish. "I've been in that position before. Kovalchuk was quick to give it to me on the bench, too, so I had great empathy for him in that situation."


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