These kids are all right

RANDY SPORTAK -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 11:44 AM ET

PITTSBURGH -- Neon Dion is playing down the matchup.

Same with Sid the kid.

Darryl Sutter, however, is willing to admit he's anxious about a game featuring two of the league's top rookies.

"I'm looking forward to (tonight) -- Hockey Night in Canada, with Phaneuf against El Sid," said the Flames GM/head coach.

Although the recent meeting between Sidney Crosby's Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington Capitals super-rookie Alexander Ovechkin drew special attention as a matchup of fab freshmen, tonight's clash in the Steel City (5 p.m., CBC, FAN 960) is more of a real test between two young stars.

A case of the unstoppable force and the immovable object.

Donning the Flaming C for the Hockey Night in Canada clash (shown only in Nova Scotia and Alberta since everyone else wants to see the Toronto Maple Leafs, or so CBC believes) you have Dion Phaneuf, a defenceman who possesses skill along with a nasty edge.

For the Penguins, you have Crosby, the first-year phenom who has parlayed his amazing offensive skills to an impressive 12 goals and 16 helpers.

Teammates when Canada stormed to gold at the World Junior Hockey Championships last winter, they have plenty of knowledge of each other.

However, Phaneuf, who was yesterday named the NHL's rookie of the month, won't fan the flames with any promises of enemy introductions.

"He's off to a very good start," said Phaneuf. "You put him by the net, he's going to put the puck in the net, he's going to make plays. You can see that by how well he's done so far. He's having a great start to the year. That's good to see.

"Him and Ovechkin have done a great job for both of their teams."

Crosby, who has lived up to the hype of being the first overall selection in this year's draft, also sent kudos but alluded to knowing he'll be in for a rough ride if they meet on the ice.

"I've heard he's been doing great and that doesn't surprise me at all," Crosby told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review after yesterday's practice. "He's always been a great defenceman, with his physical play, the way he sees the ice, the way he plays the game. I'm sure he adjusted very well to playing in the NHL.

"He prides himself on playing a physical game. When he sees the opportunity to finish guys and make hits, he's going to do it.

"You have to be aware of him but you can't change anything because of that.

"You have to be ready to battle. He's going to battle you, so you have to battle him."

In the hockey world, there's a noticeable increased level of interest surrounding Crosby. The Flames, who meet the Penguins tonight for the only time this season, are no different.

"I've never seen him skate live, never seen him play live," veteran forward Tony Amonte said.

"What I have seen is he's a great player, has proven it already and is a dangerous guy out there. It'll be interesting for us to try and shut down their lineup because they've got a potent lineup."

It's a lineup that also includes the likes of Mario Lemieux, Mark Recchi and Sergei Gonchar. Phaneuf knows he'll have to be at his best against them and Crosby.

"You can't look at him as being different," Phaneuf said of Crosby. "You have to play him straight up. You play every skilled guy in the league tough because if you give them space, they're going to take it and they're going to make you pay.

"We're playing the Pittsburgh Penguins, not Sidney Crosby."


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