Crosby caught Jets' eyes

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Pittsburgh Penguins’ Sidney Crosby attracts a swarm of fan photographers during warm-ups...

@TEXT: Pittsburgh Penguins’ Sidney Crosby attracts a swarm of fan photographers during warm-ups before his NHL hockey game against the New York Islanders in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, November 21, 2011. (REUTERS/David DeNoma)

TED WYMAN, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 6:21 PM ET

Sidney Crosby’s eye-popping season debut after a lengthy recovery from a concussion made quite an impression on the Winnipeg Jets.

Like everyone else in the hockey world, the Jets were paying close attention to Crosby’s return Monday night and his storybook two goal, two assist performance was on everyone’s tongue Tuesday.

“How could you not see it, it was everywhere,” rugged winger Tanner Glass said as the Jets prepared to depart for Washington, where they’ll start a three-game road trip Wednesday (6 p.m., TSN Jets).

“It’s great. He’s the best player in the game and he proved it (Monday) night.”

The players seemed genuinely happy to see Crosby back in the game, even though he plays for a conference rival and is the hardest forward in the league to defend.

The bottom line is, Crosby’s good for the game.

“It was pretty unbelievable,” Jets defenceman Mark Stuart said. “It was great for him coming back. You never want to see a guy with a head injury and there’ve been too many in the last few years. You heard so much from hockey fans and people around the league and that’s a guy everybody wants in there.”

Jets coach Claude Noel was so impressed with Crosby that he addressed the returning superstar with his players Tuesday.

“Out of the four points he got, how many were on the backhand?” Noel asked. “They were all on the backhand. That’s a great lesson for young guys. I talked to our players about it today.

“I was very, very impressed. When you watch the game as a whole, you see the impact he can have on his team. You talk about leadership? When he was on the ice, they looked like they were playing at a speed that no one else could reach.”

There has been a lot of talk in hockey circles lately about how Crosby will be treated in his return to the NHL after a 320-day layoff. Some have suggested he’ll be treated with kid gloves, with opposing players afraid to hit him for fear of causing another injury.

Nobody wants to be cast as a villain, but they don’t want to let Crosby embarrass them either.

“I’d be lying if I said anything other than I didn’t want to be the guy to knock him out again,” Glass said. “People would say I shouldn’t even be in the game, let alone hitting Crosby.

“But you have to hit him as you normally would. It’s going to make you look pretty silly if you don’t. He’s one of us, he’s part of the brotherhood in this league and everybody expects to hit and be hit. If you play him differently, he’s so dangerous, and he’s going to make you look silly.”

When Wayne Gretzky played, there was an unwritten code. You didn’t hit the NHL’s greatest meal ticket, at least not without paying for it.

Dave Semenko and Marty McSorely were the Great One’s justice.

“There’s an instigator rule now,” Glass said. “That stuff’s gone.

“The higher-ups in the league took that out a long time ago. You can hit the star players now and there’s no recourse. You can’t just jump a guy any more, you just play everyone like everyone else.”

Stuart doesn’t believe players should be concerned about injuring Crosby.

“Maybe Monday night, it might be in the back of your head that you don’t want to hurt him.

“But Sidney Crosby is a guy that can take care of himself. It’s tough enough to hit him in the first place and if you lay off him, he’s going to make you look stupid, he’s going to score three goals.”

Noel sees that happening anyway on many nights.

“People have a lot of respect for him and they’ll treat him with respect,” Noel said. “I think he’ll play a little bit differently until he feels comfortable but that’s even more dangerous because now he’ll start playing with more speed. You could see Monday night he was at rocket speed while everyone else was at train speed.”

The Jets will find out first hand Dec. 23, when they host Crosby and the Penguins at MTS Centre.


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