Penguins notebook: Team receives warm welcome in Edmonton
EDMONTON, Alberta — The Penguins might be hockey's most high-profile team and without question showcase hockey's most high-profile player.
Before Friday, they hadn't played in western Canada since 2011, and Sidney Crosby hadn't played in western Canada in four years.
Put it all together, and the rockstar reception the Penguins have received in Edmonton is understandable.
Coach Dan Bylsma, who only announces his starting goaltender before games, even took time to smile at the assembled Canadian reporters and say, “And yes, Sidney Crosby will be playing tonight.”
Loads of fans have stood outside arenas when the Penguins have practiced in Vancouver and Edmonton, and many others have bombarded the team hotels.
Players simply smile and shake their heads when witnessing the media attention Crosby has received during the trip.
Still, most have enjoyed the venture.
“It wasn't so fun coming here when I played in Dallas because we had to come here all the time,” defenseman Matt Niskanen said. “But looking at it now, yeah, I've really enjoyed it. We haven't been out here in awhile. It's fun to see new cities, new buildings, new fans.”
Edmonton coach Dallas Eakins said he enjoys the “buzz” Crosby creates.
Eakins, though, said he would prefer his team get excited for every game the way it does when the Penguins come to town.
“It's such a privilege to be in this league. Crosby, (Joe) Thornton, (Ryan) Getzlaf … they're all great,” he said. “Maybe we need a cardboard cutout of Crosby and put a different jersey on it every time we play a different team.”
Learning from the opponent
Eakins is aware the young Oilers have been compared to the Penguins teams from the early years of Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.
He knows his team has failed to reach expectations, but the coach said he is “more patient” than he was earlier in the season. And he wants his team to learn from Crosby.
“I watch a lot of Pittsburgh's games,” he said. “When there is danger in the neutral zone, you know what Crosby is going to do. He's going to dump it deep and go get it. We need to learn those kinds of habits.”
The Penguins were not impressed with defenseman Simon Despres' performance against the Canucks on Tuesday. He allowed forward Chris Higgins to get behind him and score on a breakaway while generally looking uncomfortable with defense partner Brooks Orpik.
Despres was a healthy scratch Friday, replaced in the lineup by defenseman Robert Bortuzzo.
About that ice
Edmonton long has had a reputation of having hockey's best ice. And while most of the forwards agree that it is a fast surface, Penguins defensemen weren't so delighted.
Niskanen jokingly said the puck felt like a “foreign object” on his stick during Friday's morning skate. Many Penguins players said that, while the Edmonton ice is good, it becomes “snowy” at the end of periods, which makes for difficult conditions.