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TORONTO – Team Canada coach Mike Babcock has seen captain Sidney Crosby in top form in the past in international competitions.
Babcock believed Crosby played at a high level at the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver. He thought Crosby was a star at the 2014 Olympics in Sochi. But in those tournaments, though Crosby looked solid in the coach’s eyes, he didn’t put up big numbers.
In Saturday’s Team Canada 6-0 drubbing over the Czech Republic in their first game of the World Cup, Crosby’s offensive performance was the difference.
Crosby scored one goal and notched two assists in just 13:04 of action as he led his team’s first-line with Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron in a dominant effort. The trio ended up with seven points and a plus-9 rating combined between all three of them
“What you saw tonight … is he got points tonight,” Babcock said. “Everyone likes to get points, Sid likes to get points, too. As the team gets better, he has to get better but it’s a good start for his line. His line’s good.”
Last season Crosby won the Conn Smythe Trophy in helping the Pittsburgh Penguins to a Stanley Cup and against the Czech Republic he picked up right where he left off. In fact, Crosby credited his strong tournament opening game to Pittsburgh’s postseason run.
“I feel good. The fact that I played late into June and you’re stepping into this level, I think that helps kind of with adjusting and I think that finding chemistry with us as a line early has helped,” Crosby said. “With our team we have so much speed and so much depth I think that if we get things rolling everyone kind of helps each other.”
Crosby started the scoring at the 8:26 mark when he banked a shot off Czech Republic goaltender Michal Neuvirth to make the game 1-0. He picked up an assist on Brad Marchand’s deflection goal at the 17:08 mark of the first period to make it 2-0. And a dogged forecheck by Crosby helped lead to Patrice Bergeron’s tally with almost no time left in the first to put the game at 3-0.
Crosby also fed Joe Thornton for a tap-in goal at the 7:22 mark of the second period to make it 4-0.
“It’s a lot of fun. But at the same time, you have to pull your weight, too,” Marchand said of playing with Crosby. “When he’s playing at such an elite level, you have to be able to keep up with him, and play with him. But it’s a lot of fun to watch him do his thing. I’ve said before, you always have to be prepared.”
At the 2010 Olympics and 2014 Olympics, Crosby notched 10 points in 13 games combined. Bergeron was a teammate of Crosby’s in both tournaments and noted Saturday’s game against the Czech Republic was about as dominant as possible for Crosby.
“He was amazing tonight. He gave us the energy and the jump that we needed as a team and we definitely fed off him,” Bergeron said. “The way he was making plays at full speed, definitely was opening up a lot of plays for us on his line.”
Canada’s game was an exercise in both talent and selflessness. Though Crosby’s line did most of the damage, no player played more than Drew Doughty’s 21:47 minutes and no fewer than Corey Perry’s 11:06 of action. The Czech Republic struggled to handle Canada’s depth and allowed 50 shots on goal.
“(Crosby’s line is) shifty. They’re a good line. I think all four lines played well,” Czech forward Jakub Voracek said.
Babcock has never lost a major international tournament involving professional players and understands the nuances of such events. Winning the first game doesn’t mean much and he wants to guard against a potential letdown in his team’s next game against the United States on Tuesday.
“I’ve been to a number of these events and the team that loses today usually gets better tomorrow and the team that wins today usually gets a little fatter tomorrow,” Babcock said. “So the important thing to do is to live scared and get better tomorrow.”
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