Pens: Crosby, skills, brash and young

MIKE ZEISBERGER

, Last Updated: 9:38 AM ET

Grant Fuhr isn't prepared to anoint this band of Pittsburgh Penguins as the "new" Edmonton Oilers quite yet.

With the media in these parts recently saturated with comparisons between Fuhr's Oilers of the early 1980s and the present day Pittsburgh Crosbys, the Hall of Fame goaltender yesterday was quick to point out a significant difference between the two talent-rich squads.

"We had some good veterans," Fuhr recalled, referring to the likes of Gary Unger, Stan Weir, Lee Fogolin and Laurie Boschman. "I don't know if their veterans are as experienced as the ones we had.

"It looks like their young guys are doing most of the leading."

Fuhr's comments proved to be so very prophetic when Sidney Crosby and co. took to the ice against the Maple Leafs in a highly-anticipated tilt at the Air Canada Centre last night.

RISING STARS

Other than Mark Recchi, arguably the only true greybeard leader on the Pens, it is Pittsburgh's young guns -- starring Crosby, Jordan Staal and Evgeni Malkin -- who have carried the load on most evenings.

Just like Fuhr said.

A packed throng of 19,620 squeezed into the rink, establishing an ACC attendance record for a hockey game. They were here to witness Crosby Night in Canada featuring Sid the Kid.

Yet instead of seeing yet another edition of The Crosby Show, the capacity crowd watched Staal and Malkin outshine the NHL's leading scorer.

Making his inaugural NHL appearance in Toronto, Staal capped his first career hat trick in memorable fashion by scoring the winner at 3:54 of overtime to give the Pens a wild 6-5 victory.

No family members made the journey down from Thunder Bay but Staal's post-game interview on Hockey Night in Canada with Ron McLean and Don Cherry more than made up for that.

Staal admitted being "a little bit nervous" in the presence of Grapes, who has been one of Jordan's biggest boosters.

"I remember Dougie Gilmour being on there and him getting the big fat kiss," Staal said

"This is such a dream. It hasn't sunk in yet."

With Malkin chipping in with a four-point performance, Crosby, with his one assist, was almost an afterthought, if that is possible.

That's what you get with these Pens. There is more to this team than just Sid the Kid, and they proved it last night.

"This team is deeper than people think," Staal said. "When your go-to guy is not going, there are plenty of us to pick up the slack."

Crosby, meanwhile, remains on pace to threaten Wayne Gretzky's NHL record for points by a 19-year-old of 137. During that quest, Sid the Kid will continue to be labelled as a whiner and a diver by his critics, allegations that Gretzky himself finds ridiculous.

"People (who say that about Crosby) are crazy," Gretzky, the second-year coach of the Phoenix Coyotes, told reporters in Florida yesterday. "He gets hit more than anybody in the league. People try to hit him more than anyone in the league. And they should.

"I know when I played, the other coach in their locker room, the first thing he said was, 'Hit 99.' They didn't say 'Don't hit him.'

"What (Crosby) is going to go through is no different than what probably Bobby Orr went through or I went through or Mario went through," Gretzky added.

"He's the best player in the game. "And so 90 percent of the people ... are going to back him and adore him (while some) people are going to try to knock him off his porch."

Teams can target Crosby like that all they want. So be it.

But if the likes of Malkin and Staal are not accounted for, there will be many long nights for the opposition in the future.


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