Speed and skill

MIKE ULMER -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:33 AM ET

PITTSBURGH -- Word passed around here through the scouts and coaches, over morning coffee in the battered dressing room and in the offices and corridors.

Twenty-eight power plays between the Calgary Flames and Chicago Blackhawks on Saturday night.

It was sweet news in Pittsburgh, where the Penguins are built on the notion that rule interpretations to stop restraining in all three areas of the rink are for real and this time, for good.

"This is our third time around at it," Penguins general manager Craig Patrick said. "It's going to work this time. The players will adjust and there will be a different game. Definitely."

"I can't emphasize enough (that) none of us have ever coached or played or seen the way the game is going to be," Penguins coach Ed Olczyk said.

With Mario Lemieux healthy from hip problems and a host of flashy talent, the Pens are a team built for the way everyone hopes the game will be played.

Lemieux used to watch former coach Kevin Constantine's seminars on holding and shake his head forlornly. Now, the owner has a team in his image.

Ziggy Palffy is a dancer. Though he has been working out off ice, John LeClair moved well after being hampered by back woes. Yesterday, for the first time at camp, Mark Recchi unveiled his above-average speed. With no centre line, defenceman Sergei Gonchar has the ability to spring forwards straddling the opposing blue line.

Which brings us around to Sidney Crosby.

Crosby finished the Penguins' exhibition tournament with two goals and four assists in four games. That was hardly indicative. He was the best player on the ice during several junctures.

He might be the best skater on the team. Several times he stunned linemates with passes they could have used but for their shock. True to his reputation, he was tough to get off the puck and he won nearly all his faceoffs. There have been sporadic periods of ineffectiveness, but the bottom line is everything you have heard about Sidney Crosby has been on display this week.

"I'm been extremely pleased with the way he has progressed and the confidence level," Olczyk said. "When I asked him about the difference between major junior and the world (junior) championship, he said the speed of the game is way higher. It is. It's the best league in the world but players like that adapt quickly."

These are high times for the Pens and for Crosby, what with the season still unsullied by a loss. The Penguins are in Columbus to face the Blue Jackets tonight, but Crosby will not play his first exhibition game until Wednesday against the Boston Bruins in Wilkes-Barre, Pa. He has been playing with Recchi. Lemieux also should play Wednesday.

In Crosby, the NHL will welcome a once-in-a-decade talent into a league spruced up, if not to his specifications, certainly to his taste and that of his team.

"I think it could be a huge advantage with the amount of skill and offence we have," Crosby said. "There's a lot of skill guys here and sometimes players aren't going to be able to stop them within the rules. Hopefully, teams will pay for that."

The Penguins are hoping for 25 goals and, say, 60 points from Crosby. Now, after a week, that tally has to be revised upward because of the expectation of tons of power play time and because the kid has shown so much composure.

Like Gretzky and Lemieux, Sidney Crosby seems to have been put on to this earth for this one, solitary pursuit. He is a prodigy, unsullied by ego, unmoved by expectations. There is no entourage, no earring, no attitude.

For all his talents, the most amazing thing about Sidney Crosby is this: The hard part, the growing up, seems to be done already.


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