PITTSBURGH – The highest praise comes from the highest sources.
So, when Penguins captain Sidney Crosby, architect of Canada’s Golden Goal at the 2010 Olympic hockey tournament, is astonished by the moves of Senators defencmen Erik Karlsson, the young Swede is clearly not a one Norris wonder.
“It’s pretty amazing to watch,” Crosby said of Karlsson, prior to Wednesday’s game at the Consol Energy Center. “Hopefully we don’t have to deal with that (Wednesday), seeing him rush up the ice too much but he’s definitely a guy who just finds a way to create every night. For a defenceman, I don’t think that’s very easy, especially today the way teams are defensively .
“He’s up on the rush, he finds ways to produce,” Crosby said. “He’s pretty tough to stop.”
For more than 10 minutes, Crosby held forth on a variety of subjects, including Karlsson, former teammate Sergei Gonchar and the looming 2014 Olympics of Sochi.
Asked to compare Karlsson with Pittsburgh’s own Kris Letang, who returned the lineup after missing three games due to injury, Crosby found similarities and differences.
“Their skating ability is pretty similar,” Crosby said. “They’re able to get up and down the ice with ease, they’re in pretty good shape, they play a lot of minutes. I think, if anything, Karlsson is up in the play a bit more than Tanger is. That’s not necessarily a good or a bad thing, it’s just two different players in that way.
“Karlsson is almost like a fourth forward sometimes.”
The defence played by the reigning Norris Trophy winner can get overlooked when Karlson skates the way a child would dream of it, and produces nearly one point per game. But as Crosby noted, dryly, “I don’t think you have to play defence, when you have the puck, right? I think that’s a big part of it.”
When he does have to defend, Karlsson uses his stick to great effect, breaking up passes. As Crosby says, “I think it’s more his anticipation, the way he thinks. That’s probably his best weapon as far as defending.”
He has won a Stanley Cup, so the Golden Goal does have competition as an all-time career highlight in Crosby’s world.
“It’s up there,” Crosby said. “We all grow up dreaming of being able to score a goal like that so to have it happen in Canada at the Olympics was definitely amazing.”
Asked if he has any souvenirs from Vancouver 2010, Crosby said he probably has “some stuff kicking around somewhere. The gold medal is obviously what it’s all about, so to have that is more than enough.”
With the Sochi Games one year out, and the NHL likely to participate, Crosby has it on his radar, if not his daily thought.
“Definitely,” he said. “The Olympics is an amazing experience, and obviously coming off the one in Canada, going through that was pretty incredible. With it being in Russia, another place that is pretty passionate about and the history, I think it would be a great opportunity.”
Nobody in the Senators dressing room was more enthusiastic about playing against Crosby than Ottawa rookie forward Mika Zibanejad, facing No. 87 for the first time.
The young Swede is a big fan.
“I’m excited,” said Zibanejad, before his 18th career NHL game. “At the same time I have to focus on the game. Obviously he’s a great player, one of the best in the league. Before this, I’ve been looking up to him. He’s one of the players you watch to see what he does out there.”
“It’s always fun to be able to go up against somebody like that.”
Zibanejad said he isn’t concerned whether head coach Paul MacLean plays him at centre or wing, or on which line.
“I just appreciate every shift I get,” Zibanejad said.
GONCHAR THE ELDER
Facing a large scrum of Pittsburgh media, Gonchar said he’d like to play another year or more, despite his approaching 39th birthday.
“The funniest part is when you start to play against the kids who used to play in the locker room when you came into the league,” Gonchar said. “I used to see the son of Mark Tinordi (Jarred), and now he’s playing for Montreal.” (Though he’s currently with the AHL Hamilton Bulldogs). You realize you’re old when that happens.”
An injury during the warm-up caused a game-time lineup shuffle for the Senators.
Winger Milan Michalek suffered a lower-body injury during the warm-up and was a late scratch. With no extra forwards, the Senators opted to use seven defenceman, dressing Patrick Wiercioch, who had been scheduled to sit out in favour of André Benoit.
There was no further news on Michalek’s status.