Crosby's Pens headed in right direction

MIKE ULMER -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:49 AM ET

Sidney Crosby played his first NHL game in Canada last night and nothing much changed.

All the buildings that were here before his visit were left standing. So, too, were the Maple Leafs, 3-2 overtime winners on a shot that careened off Bryan McCabe's chest in overtime.

An assist, a nice assist, but a single assist, was the extend of Crosby's statistical impact. His clever pass to Ziggy Palffy in the first period resulted in a rebound goal off the stick of Sergei Gonchar. Crosby did beat Clarke Wilm in the face-off circle deep in the Leafs end to kick start the sequence that led to Pittsburgh's second goal.

Not a bad night, unless you're Sidney Crosby.

Heading into the contest, Crosby had scored six times and added five assists over his past six games.

He led his team in scoring and his 43 points would lead 17 of the league's 30 clubs.

He gets the chance to better things tonight in Montreal, the home of his childhood team ... the Alouettes.

Kidding. The Canadiens.

A win over the Leafs, winners of six straight if you count two overtimes and a shootout, would have been unfair, Crosby admitted.

The Leafs outshot the Penguins 38-22, and had they been able to convert even one of their seven power plays, things would have been over quickly.

"They played good and Joce (goalie Jocelyn Thibault) kept us in it," Crosby said. "It's good to get one point out of it but I don't think we deserved (to win) that one."

Crosby finished with 17:08 in ice time, 2:24 seconds less than teammate Mark Recchi.

Crosby had just two shots, finished a minus-1 and couldn't beat Leafs goalie Ed Belfour on a good chance in the second.

Under coach Michel Therrien, the successor to poor Ed Olczyk, the Penguins have been transformed into a team that is a constant threat to tie as opposed to a 6-2 loss waiting to happen.

But importing situational players and checkers can, in games like last night's, mean less ice time.

The lack of minutes for Crosby was highlighted by the fact that the Leafs impressive rookie Alex Steen logged more ice time (17:24) than the player who will shape the league in the not-too-distant future.

Crosby pointed out his minutes are up since the Penguins sacked Olczyk seven games ago.

"I've been getting more ice time. Tonight not as much, because we didn't have as many power plays."

Crosby also is buying into the idea that a stultifying trap can lead to more offence. Just look at all the 50 seasons Bobby Holik enjoyed.

"It's a little bit of a trap but we have guys moving, too," Crosby said. "That's a nice combination to have. If you want to create things offensively, you need to get the puck. It's all about possession. If we can play strong defensively and get puck possession that's important."

There have been more changes, of course. Therrien made Crosby an assistant captain.

"I want to make sure he learns from Stanley Cup winners," Therrien said. "We've got some winners who've won the Stanley Cup in the past (Lyle Odelein, John LeClair and Recchi). So when we're going to meetings with the core group, I want him to participate and learn. We all know it's going to be Sidney's team."

DOUBTFUL

That day, of course, is coming sooner than later. His poor play as much as his ongoing heart problems make Lemieux's long-term status as the team's franchise player doubtful.

The Penguins are playing better under Therrien, who may bite into Crosby's statistics but pad the kid's win total.

It's a trade Crosby is willing to make.

He has points to spare.


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