Sidney Crosby handles the puck against Nicklas Lidstrom, Henrik Zetterberg and Justin Abdelkader. (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)
DETROIT - Already engaged by a number of Detroit players, Sidney Crosby had no interest in picking another battle with the Red Wings coach.
Hours before his Pittsburgh Penguins try to even a Stanley Cup final series Detroit leads 1-0, Crosby was told Wings bench boss Mike Babcock referred to him as a “head-hunter” based on the way he went after adversary Henrik Zetterberg in Game 1.
“I'm not going to get involved with the games,” Crosby said. “He can say whatever he wants. I don't think I've been known as a head-hunter throughout my career. He's the first one ever to say that so it's pretty interesting stuff.”
It’s little wonder Crosby has no interest in another battlefront – he’s already got enough on his plate with the aforementioned encounters with Zetterberg, his task of deceiving this generation’s best defenseman and an emerging tryst with Wings grinder Kirk Maltby.
Crosby gave the veteran Detroit winger just a little jab on the foot while exiting the ice after Game 1, something that likely caught more people than just Maltby by surprise.
“I thought he was hitting Homer (Tomas Holmstrom) to be honest with you and I don’t know why,” Maltby chuckled. “I don’t think I said a word to him before that, it was after the little slash. It wasn’t hard or anything like that, it was just the fact he did it that caught me off guard.”
Crosby offered his take on the tap: “He was just talking and I just slashed him. It wasn't anything out of the ordinary that's never happened before.”
Head-hunting, slashing unsuspecting guys in the foot: Are we seeing a new side of Sidney Crosby emerge? Hardly. First of all, by Maltby’s own admission there wasn’t much malice behind the slash. Secondly, Crosby has always played with an intense streak that’s bound to spill over at times.
Finally, and perhaps most interestingly, there are clear traces of admiration in Babcock’s voice when he talks about Crosby getting after his players, particularly Zetterberg. It’s almost like the fan that still resides inside the coach is delighted by what’s unfolding between his top center and potential No. 1 nightmare.
“To me the battle they had going last night between Zetterberg and Crosby was a great battle,” Babcock said. “I thought he went head-hunting right off the hop. His ability to respond was good. I think that’s the game within the game. If you’re a hockey purist and you like superstars who bring it, that’s a nice matchup.”
Of course when he’s not trying to lay licks on Zetterberg or stirring it up with Matlby, Crosby has to deal with the all-world shutdown abilities of Detroit defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom.
The Wings captain assessed the Game 1 head-to-head and talked about what needs to get done in order to limit the damage done by Crosby’s line.
“I thought we did an OK job,” Lidstrom said of the opening contest. “He’s a great player, he’s going to get some chances and he had some chances. As long as we’re trying to stay above him, try to close the gap as a defenseman where he can’t come with speed.”
A few other things to keep in mind heading into Game 2:
• Much has been made of playing games on back-to-back nights, but don’t forget it’s very common for teams to play on consecutive nights in different cities during the regular season.
“Usually you travel after a game like last night and you’ve got to play somewhere else,” Lidstrom said. “Now we’re at home and that helps, it makes it a lot easier coming out to play that second game.”
• Babcock said Detroit wouldn’t get any bodies back for Game 2, meaning no Pavel Datsyuk (who didn’t skate Sunday morning) and no Kris Draper (who did). The way muckers Darren Helm and Justin Abdelkader are contributing right now, you wonder if the Wings’ on-ice fortunes will have to change for Draper to draw back in at all.
• Detroit owned Pittsburgh in the faceoff circle in Game 1, winning 71 percent of the pucks dropped. Pens coach Dan Bylsma needs that to change, especially given so much of the Wings’ puck-possession game is built on, well, having the puck.
“We have a game plan,” he said. “We know – we’ve studied what those players will do in the faceoff circle. We went over those reminders (Sunday).”