Crosby's earning pre-season raves

BRUCE GARRIOCH -- Ottawa Sun

, Last Updated: 12:08 PM ET

BINGHAMTON, N.Y. -- The Senators will get their first real look at "Sid the Kid" tonight.

Penguins coach Eddie Olczyk has already seen enough from his post behind the bench to declare Sidney Crosby is going to be the real deal.

Crosby wasn't in Pittsburgh's lineup for last night's opener of this back-to-back series with the Senators, but he will play tonight down the road at the Wachovia Arena in Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, Pa.

And though he's only suited up for a week of practice and one pre-season game, you can hear the enthusiasm in Olczyk's voice when he talks about what the 19-year-old phenom brings to the Pens.

"There's a lot to like about him, but I believe the thing that strikes you the most is his ice presence," Olczyk said prior to last night's game at Broome County Arena. "He knows exactly where the nine guys are on the ice at all times. He's got great vision.

"The thing you can see about (Crosby) is that he is just a complete player. He hasn't just got great skills, he's aware in his own end of the ice as well. A lot of the things he does with the puck and without the puck are just outstanding. He's been excellent."

There's no question the Penguins hit the jackpot when they won the NHL's draft lottery and were able to make Crosby the No. 1 pick in this year's entry draft. Owner/captain Mario Lemieux hasn't been able to wipe the smile off his face this summer.

But Crosby wasn't the only talented player brought on board by the Penguins. Veterans Mark Recchi, John LeClair, Sergei Gonchar, Jocelyn Thibault and Ziggy Palffy, who will also make his Pittsburgh debut tonight, were signed to help provide a strong supporting cast.

"When you look at what Mario Lemieux accomplished 21 years ago in 1984, he was able to do a lot of that himself,'' said Olczyk. ''He had a lot of pressure on him when he came in here and there wasn't much around him.

EASING PRESSURE

"We felt like we wanted to put people around (Crosby) who we felt could be difference makers in the game. This is going to take some of the pressure off him and we'll be able to use different players in different situations."

When we last saw the Penguins in the spring of 2004, they were a bunch of no names -- Lemieux was like a lone man on an island -- and the club intended to build from within.

There were prospects such as Ryan Malone, but for the most part the team couldn't compete. Lemieux was hurt and Olczyk faced many frustrating nights with his young club.

That shouldn't be the case this season.

"We had young players in Game 1 and we were committed to playing with them through Game 82," recalled Olczyk. "We would give as much as we could and we played hard every night.

"The problem was when we got late in the game, we didn't have those guys who could make a difference. We played tough against teams like Ottawa, but they had the Marian Hossas, Daniel Alfredssons, Wade Reddens and Zdeno Charas who could make the difference for them. We felt like we had to add those kinds of guys to our lineup. We have Mario back and we've got Palffy, Recchi, LeClair and Gonchar."

Olczyk maintained the club will not put undue pressure on Crosby to carry the team.

"Look, we can't control the outside pressure and expectations that are going to be put on (Crosby)," said Olczyk. "We want to make sure that people realize that pressure and those expectations are not coming from us.

''We just want him to be part of the team."

FAN SCORES HOT TICKET

The Senators vs. the Maple Leafs is a hot ticket even in the NHL pre-season. More than 700 local fans entered our contest, which offered four tickets to tomorrow night's game at the Corel Centre. Julie Pilon was our lucky winner, correctly answering that Brian Lee was the Senators' first-round draft pick in 2005.

bruce.garrioch@ott.sunpub.com


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