When Sid returns, foes won't cut him slack
CHRIS STEVENSON, QMI Agency
|Sidelined with a concussion, Sidney Crosby skates during a Pittsburgh Penguins hockey practice at the Scotiabank Saddledome in Calgary on Friday, October 7, 2011. (LYLE ASPINALL/QMI Agency)
So, P.K. Subban, you think you have Sidney Crosby lined up for a big hit.
In that moment before contact, do you think about who it is, what the Pittsburgh Penguins captain has been through, what he means to the NHL and, maybe just a little bit, let up?
"Nobody wants to be the one to put Sidney Crosby out, you know what I mean?" said Subban, the Montreal Canadiens defenceman who had run-ins with Crosby when they met in the playoffs two years ago.
"That being said, there's a hockey game that has to be played. I don't think he's going to want anyone to take it easy on him out there. He wants everybody to play hard. We understand the situation."
Crosby has been out since Jan. 5 with a concussion he suffered after successive hits from David Steckel, then with the Washington Capitals, in the Winter Classic, and a couple of nights later on a hit from behind into the boards by Tampa Bay Lightning defenceman Victor Hedman.
After a summer of uncertainty, Crosby returned to workouts with the Penguins at training camp and on Oct. 13 was cleared for contact by his medical team. He has been practising hard and taking contact from his Penguins teammates.
The imminent return of the game's marquee player presents an interesting question for his opponents. Given Crosby's status as one of the game's meal tickets, do players cut him a little slack in a contact situation?
Subban said when he is on the ice against players such as Crosby or Detroit Red Wings defenceman Niklas Lidstrom he accords them some respect -- he believes their status in the game has earned them as much.
"First of all, whether he was injured or he wasn't injured, when you see No. 87 on the back or No. 5 on the Detroit Red Wings (Lidstrom), there's a tremendous amount of respect for players like that on the ice," Subban said.
"That being said, those are the greatest players in our game and you don't want to put them in a bad position and put yourself in a bad position. You play them hard, but you don't want to hit them from behind or do anything like that. That's the same for everybody, but especially with those guys, you are a little cautious."
Subban said that Crosby surely won't put himself in a position where his head could be vulnerable to a hard hit.
"When I play the game I don't put myself in that position," he said. "It's safe to say everybody is looking forward to him coming back into the lineup. The day that he is back playing is the day everybody in the NHL, players, fans, are going to be happy, because he is the best player in our game."
Edmonton Oilers coach Tom Renney said he would not tell his players to be cautious around Crosby.
"No, for sure not. Don't let him get going," Renney said.
"He's back on the ice because he's supposed to be. He's allowed to play. That doesn't change the way you play him at all. You've got to be physical with him, but you know you can't chase him around because he'll eat you up.
"But the bottom line is as you collaborate defensively, you've got to take his time and space away and make sure you are finishing checks on him. The big thing with Sid is he has such terrific balance. He can do so much. You've got to make sure you haven't collaborated to the point where it takes two or three guys to check him because now he's going to make a great play on you. You have to be almost as smart away from him as you do on him."
Oilers defenceman Andy Sutton said the worst thing a player could do in a contact situation with Crosby is to dial it back.
"He's the best player in the world. If you let up against him, he's going to make you look foolish," Sutton said. "He's smart enough to know he faces that nightly. The best defenders are going to play him the hardest every night. That's probably why he's being so mindful of taking all this time to come back and make sure he's 100%.
"He's so dynamic and can beat you so many ways, if you (let up) he is going to make you look bad."