Penguins-Blues offers an Olympic preview in St. Louis
Before there is Sochi, there is St. Louis.
Blues center David Backes is the man Team USA will rely on to slow Sidney Crosby when the Americans meet Team Canada in the Olympics, and a preview of the February showdown will take place Saturday when the Penguins visit St. Louis for the first time in two years.
“It's a game within the game,” Crosby said of the personal matchup. “That's what you get excited it for. He takes a lot of pride in what he does.”
So does Crosby.
Although the Penguins' captain started in strong fashion, he has gone six games without scoring a goal and his lead in the league scoring race has shrunk to one point over Tampa Bay's Steven Stamkos.
Recording a significant offensive night against Backes rarely comes easily for Crosby, who never has scored a goal against the Blues. Backes has played in five of Crosby's six career meetings against St. Louis.
“He's just so big, so physical, so strong on the puck,” left wing Chris Kunitz said. “Backes really leads by example for his team.”
St. Louis has emerged as a powerful Western Conference contender during the past three seasons, all of which have been played under coach Ken Hitchcock, who has a history of pestering Crosby. Hitchcock was Philadelphia's coach in 2005 when Flyers defenseman Derian Hatcher knocked out Crosby's teeth in a tension-filled game in which Crosby scored a dramatic game-winner in overtime.
Following the game, Hitchcock said he “only noticed (Crosby) when he was scoring the goal,” a comment that didn't sit well with the Penguins.
They since have developed a civil relationship — Hitchcock was an assistant coach for Canada in 2010 when Crosby scored the gold medal-winning goal in the Vancouver Olympics — but there figures to be an additional sense of nastiness in this game.
Backes wouldn't have it any other way. Where elite defensive forwards like Boston's Patrice Bergeron use their skating and finesse to sometimes slow Crosby, the 6-foot-3, 220-pound Backes prefers a more physical approach.
“He's just a tough guy to play against,” Bylsma said. “It's just the strength which he plays right down the middle, and it all starts in the faceoff circle.”
While Crosby acknowledged that Backes is an outstanding defensive player, he said dealing with him in St. Louis territory isn't the problem. Rather, Backes is an outstanding offensive player, having compiled 15 points in 14 games this season.
“He doesn't need to play too much defense because he's got the puck a lot,” Crosby said. “The way he can hold onto the puck is impressive.”
While Crosby hasn't scored against the Blues, he recorded a goal against a team that included Backes, who was on the bench when Crosby scored the “Golden Goal” against Team USA in 2010.
He doesn't figure to be on the bench in Sochi when Crosby's line is called. The same will be true Saturday.
“Just a really good player,” Crosby said. “It's just a different kind of matchup against him.”
Josh Yohe is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @JoshYohe_Trib.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Penguins’ Johnston eager to open 1st camp
- Rossi: At start, are Pens already finished?
- Penguins notebook: Martin not concerned about expiring contract
- Penguins’ Johnston eager to implement up-tempo style
- Crosby appreciates his relationship with Penguins fans
- Penguins goalie prospects push each other amid friendly competition
- Recchi relishes new role with Penguins
- Ex-Penguin Malone looking for 2nd chance
- Penguins goalie Fleury, a free agent at end of season, wants to stay
- Penguins’ Dea impresses in rookie tournament opener
- AHL overtime rules create some confusion for Penguins prospects