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Sidney Crosby is back -- what does it mean for the Islanders?
Kyle Okposo called tonight's game "a gong show," and he's certainly right about that -- Penguins forward Matt Cooke, whose locker is next to Sidney Crosby's, cracked of the media crush: "This is worse than Game 7 of the Finals!"
Crosby said he expects "a lot" from himself tonight, his first game since Jan. 5. The Islanders expect to see a crazy crowd at the CONSOL Center and all eyes around the hockey world focused on No. 87 in black.
And, given the Isles' recent troubles bringing the proper effort, some of them see tonight as a chance to maintain focus and play well in the national spotlight.
"It's a big crowd, they're going to be loud -- this is why you play, right?" Mark Streit said. "I don't think we need to think too much about (Crosby's) return. We have to think about us and what we need to do to win hockey games, no matter who's on the other side."
There are, of course, questions about whether Crosby will be targeted physically by the Islanders, who have a long history of physical encounters with the Penguins, most of them coming after Crosby was sidelined by a concussion.
"I think anyone who’s gone through this would be lying if they said they’re not a little anxious to get those first couple hits in, whether it’s giving them or taking them, but I think after that, things should be pretty normal," Crosby said.
Crosby will likely face Frans Nielsen, who has battled with Crosby often over the last couple seasons. Travis Hamonic and either Streit or Andrew MacDonald may be assigned to be on the ice against Crosby's line.
And Matt Martin, the NHL's hits leader, could get a crack on the wing to help slow Crosby's line down.
"I don't think anyone's going out there trying to take his head off -- you don't do that with anybody," Martin said. "But at the same time, you've got to play physical on him. He's one of the best players in the NHL and you can't let him skate around like it's pond hockey out there. It's a physical game and he's been known to dish it out as well, so you have to hit him when you can."