Pens pair Ott to be true test

BRUCE GARRIOCH, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 8:58 AM ET

Ottawa Senators forwards Jason Spezza and Dany Heatley are often trumpeted as being among the NHL's elite.

This afternoon, they get a chance to prove it against Pittsburgh Penguins stars Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.

With Malkin and Crosby -- the NHL's No. 1 and No. 2 leading scorers, respectively -- making their only regular-season appearance at Scotiabank Place, Senators head coach Craig Hartsburg said yesterday Spezza and Heatley should be prepared to have a little more jump in their game.

"As a player, when you play against top players, it's a personal challenge to prove to yourself, and to all of us, that you're at that level and that you want to be at that level," said Hartsburg.

"Obviously, those two guys (Malkin and Crosby) have had great starts to the season and we think our players are elite players. It's not us challenging. I just think, as a player, you always look at that personal challenge, for sure."

Coming off a strong performance in Wednesday's 5-1 victory over the Atlanta Thrashers, the Senators need top-notch games from Heatley and Spezza if they are going to keep pace with Malkin and Crosby, who have taken it upon themselves to lead Pittsburgh's charge despite numerous injuries.

While Malkin leads the NHL with 41 points, Crosby registered four assists Thursday in a 5-2 victory over the Carolina Hurricanes to creep within two points of the lead. Crosby has 17 points in the last seven games.

"Malkin and Crosby are two of the best players in the league and Pittsburgh is one of the best teams," said Spezza.

"This is a team you want to play well against, and I think this is going to be a really good challenge for our team and personally, for ourselves.

"We'll probably go head-to-head with Malkin and Crosby. They are leading the league right now. These are good guys to match yourselves up against. It's easy to challenge yourself against these guys. We've played them so much in the past few years that they've become a pretty good rival for us. We'll definitely be ready to go."

Heatley understands the expectations.

"On a team like Pittsburgh, it's Crosby and Malkin's job to score a lot of goals. We've got the same job on our team. I don't know if it's a pride factor, but you need to do your job for your team," said Heatley.

Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson said Spezza and Heatley shouldn't look at this game any differently.

"I wouldn't say this game is bigger. Where we are, we need everybody to step up every game," said Alfredsson.

"I don't think anybody comes to the rink and says, 'I've got to step it up today,' because you've got to be ready to play every day, especially because it's so competitive.

"Sure, it's a different challenge than when you play Florida because they don't have world-class players like Pittsburgh does."

Hartsburg, a talented blueliner during his playing career, was asked if he ever challenged himself when his clubs faced former great Wayne Gretzky. It prompted a laugh.

"I just didn't want to be embarrassed," he said.


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