Thursday’s game against the Penguins at Verizon Center will mark the first time that the Capitals have faced Sidney Crosby since the Winter Classic on New Year’s Day. It was in that game that former Washington center David Steckel collided with Crosby in the first of two blows to the head that resulted in the Pittsburgh captain missing over 10 months with a concussion.
Crosby returned to Pittsburgh’s lineup on Nov. 21 against the New York Islanders and in the five contests he’s appeared in the 24-year-old has recorded two goals, nine assists and a plus-7 rating. Prior to Wednesday night’s games, the Penguins lead the league with 32 points and a 14-7-4 record.
In 21 career games against Washington, Crosby has 13 goals and 35 points, and the Capitals know they can’t afford to take the returning star lightly.
“He’s a guy that you want to be physical with, but it’s not that easy,” Dennis Wideman said. “He’s extremely solid, he’s tough on his skates and he’s tough to move. You try to contain him as much as you can, but if you try to take a run at him he’s probably going to go through ya or around ya and get a goal. You have to be as physical as you can on him.”
Given that Crosby has only recently returned from the lengthy absence caused by his concussion, though, there has been plenty of attention paid to how physical a tone opponents take with him. Crosby is being hit by foes, and the Capitals insist they will do the same thing, finishing clean checks in order to limit a talented rival. The goal is not to hurt him, but they won’t be concerned about possibly harming him, either.
“You want him to play. He’s great for the game but you can’t [worry about hurting him],” said Karl Alzner, who was asking the Capitals’ trainers for updates on Crosby’s status as he made his return to game action against the Islanders. “If you think that way it’s going to wreck at least my game, it’s going to wreck a lot of guys games if you’re too worried about his health and not winning the game for your team. It’s not really going to cross my mind. Hopefully, I can hit him and not put him out of action, that’s the thing. All of Canada would hate me.”
Alex Ovechkin joked, “I think right now the league look at him all the time, if somebody make hit against him probably going to be two minutes right away,” he said. “Tomorrow’s going to be a big game we’re going to play against Pittsburgh.. He’s going to be there, Malkin’s going to be there -- it’s always interesting battle.”
The Penguins will be without defensemen Kris Letang and Zbynek Michalek against the Capitals, which could work in Ovechkin's favor. Pittsburgh would typically want one of those blueliners out against Ovechkin's line at all times.