Sidney Crosby has long haunted the Islanders through his 16 NHL seasons with the Penguins.
But with Crosby about to play in his 1,000th career game, the Islanders took some time to express appreciation for their hockey nemesis and future Hall of Famer.
"Just watching him as a kid, he was one of the players I aspired to be like one day," said Mathew Barzal before the Islanders concluded a four-game road trip against the Penguins on Saturday night. "He’s still one of the best players in the league. Maybe his numbers are not leading the league in points. But when you’re out there, the details of his game and how crisp he is. He does everything at such a high pace and he makes plays out there that really no one can make.
"It’s pretty cool to be a part of his 1,000th game tonight," added Barzal, Crosby’s linemate as the Metropolitan Division won the 2019 All-Star Game in San Jose.
Crosby, 33, was honored with a pre-game ceremony at PPG Paints Arena.
"He’s the best player in the league and he has been for a long time," Casey Cizikas said. "He’s calm. He’s got an edge and he’s dangerous. Playing against him, it’s been a lot of fun and it’s taught me a lot as a player."
Crosby has won three Stanley Cups (2009, 2016, 2017) and been to four Cup Finals since being selected first overall in 2005. He entered Saturday 37th on the NHL’s all-time points leaders list with 1,276. Among players who have reached 1,000 games, he is fifth with 808 assists and eighth in points.
He’s been particularly lethal against the Islanders as his 116 career points (37 goals, 79 assists) in 70 games entering Saturday were the most for an active player against an opponent.
Crosby opened the scoring at 4:15 of the first period in the Penguins’ 4-1 win on Thursday night, skating through the crease and getting his stick on Kasperi Kapanen’s initial shot to deflect the puck past goalie Semyon Varlamov’s short side.
He also scored the decisive shootout goal in the Penguins’ 4-3 shootout win at Nassau Coliseum on Feb. 11 and had an assist in the Islanders’ 4-3 win at the Coliseum five days earlier.
Barzal is the Islander with the skating and other skills most comparable to Crosby. But Barzal said trying to play like him is nearly impossible.
"If you try to emulate his game, you’re going to have a tough time doing that just because he’s such a unique player," Barzal said. "The thing maybe I’ve taken from him is his compete level. He’s 33 years old now and he’s still the hardest competitor on the ice. Even when I was at the All-Star Game two years ago, you could tell he wanted to win. He was playing for keeps."
Crosby has haunted Islanders coach Barry Trotz as well.
Trotz’s former team, the Capitals, lost to the Penguins in the second round in 2016 and 2017 despite leading the NHL in points both seasons. The Capitals finally beat the Penguins in the second round in 2018 as they went on to win the Cup.
"He prepares himself at an extremely high standard and that’s the reason why he’s been the face of the NHL for probably the last decade," Trotz said. "I’ve seen him grow as a young player in this league to now a veteran superstar. Early in his career, I think you could probably say he could get sidetracked by the physicality and the emotions of the game. He doesn’t do that anymore."
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