CALGARY — Hockey fans in Western Canada will get a glimpse of Sidney Crosby a few more times before he suits up for Canada at the upcoming Winter Olympics in Vancouver.
The Pittsburgh Penguins start a three-game swing with a tough test against the Calgary Flames tonight 7:30 p.m. TSN) before heading to Edmonton and Vancouver.
“I look forward to playing in great hockey atmospheres for sure,” said Crosby, who always garners a lot of media attention in Western Canada.
The Penguins last made the trip two seasons ago.
“With the Olympics and stuff like that it’s probably a little more than usual, but that’s to be expected.
“It’s something I look forward to purely because of the great hockey cities we go to here.”
The Pittsburgh captain expects to face a hard-nosed effort from Calgary’s defence corps featuring the likes of blue-liners Dion Phaneuf, Jay Bouwmeester and Robyn Regehr.
“They’re really strong back there, I think everyone realizes that,” said Crosby, who was named to Canada’s Olympic roster along with Calgary captain Jarome Iginla, while Phaneuf, Bouwmeester and Regehr were left out.
“It’s a great challenge when you’re talking about playing defencemen of that calibre.”
One night after taking on the Flames (26-14-6), Crosby and the Penguins (28-18-1) will make their way to Edmonton to face the Oilers before finishing up their four-game road trip with a Saturday night affair against the Vancouver Canucks.
Because of his notoriety, Crosby said he’ll avoid going out in public until it’s time to head to the rink.
“I pretty much stay in the room,” he said.
“No shopping or anything like that … stay in the cave and hang out there.”
While the Flames will have to be wary of Crosby and his league-leading 29 goals (tied with San Jose forward Patrick Marleau), they’ll also have to deal with the likes of Evgeni Malkin, Bill Guerin and Jordan Staal, who have combined to score 40 times.
“You definitely take pride in trying to shut those guys down and playing well, not giving them a whole lot of chances,” said Bouwmeester, who speaks from experience having played against the Penguins four times last season when he was with the Florida Panthers.
“You try not to give those guys the time and the space to make plays. You want to be physical and not make it easy for them because if you do, they’ll score some goals.”
Bouwmeester added that Calgary fans will be in for a treat on Wednesday when the Flames match up against the Stanley Cup champions.
“These games are fun,” he said. “You don’t see these teams very much. They obviously have some guys that people out here don’t get to see a whole lot that are real good players. It should be interesting.”
Iginla agreed that it won’t take much motivation to get up for the Penguins in front of a packed crowd of devoted Flames’ fans at the Pengrowth Saddledome.
“We’re looking forward to the game and I think the fans are,” Iginla said. “They’re the defending Stanley Cup champions and it’s always nice to play them and knock them off. They’ve got a lot of firepower. It’s going to be a great challenge for us, but we take pride in playing good defensive hockey.”
Having guided the Penguins to the Stanley Cup last June, Pittsburgh coach Dan Bylsma said he’s aware that every team in the league has set their sights on his club.
“I can’t imagine wanting it any other way,” he said in regards to going in to every game as the team to beat. “You expect teams to play well regardless of the circumstances. We anticipate that and we know that and that’s part of our preparation as well.”
On the tail of a 3-2 shootout loss to the Colorado Avalanche at home on Monday, Calgary goalie Miikka Kiprusoff said he’s determined to bounce back with a better effort against the Penguins.
“They have some talented forwards there and I think that’s going to be a good challenge for me and our D to keep them outside and not give them too much,” said Kiprusoff, who sports a 23-11-6 record to go with a 2.16 save percentage and a .927 save percentage. “It’s a big game for us.”
Two nights after a 3-2 shootout victory in Vancouver over the Canucks on Saturday night, the Flames fired 46 shots at Avalanche goalie Craig Anderson, who Calgary coach Brent Sutter referred to as the difference in the game.
“The biggest thing there is that our consistency has been better because our work ethic’s been better in those two games overall as a group,” Sutter said. “Our emotional level to the game has been higher as a group. We have to play that way. If we want to have any success at all, we need that on a nightly basis.”