Crosby comes to Canada, Penguins face Leafs

Sidney Crosby will play his professional hockey game in Canada Monday leading the Pittsburgh Penguins into Toronto to face the Maple Leafs.

The NHL's brightest young star knows the spotlight will be intense when he takes to the ice on two of hockey's biggest stages this week.

Sidney Crosby will play his first professional hockey game in Canada Monday, leading the Pittsburgh Penguins into Toronto for a matchup with the Maple Leafs.

One night later, Penguins will face off in Montreal against the Canadiens, Crosby's favourite team as a boy.

"Anytime you play in Canada, I guess, there's a little more attention," said the native of Cole Harbour, N.S.

"I'm sure there will be a lot of attention, with hockey being so big in [Toronto and Montreal]," he told the Pittsburgh Post Gazette. "There's a lot more media, probably, that follow the team than in other places, so I expect it to be pretty busy."

Media attention is something the phenom has grown accustomed to over the years.

Even though he's only 18 years old and still developing, Crosby has already been christened hockey's next great superstar.

His offensive skills were earning comparisons to Penguins teammate Mario Lemieux, as well as the legendary Wayne Gretzky, before he played his first NHL game.

Despite the pressure, Crosby has lived up to the hype, impressing hockey observers with his maturity and ability to handle the rigours of the NHL.

Crosby has 42 points in 37 games, and earlier this month was named an alternate captain of the Penguins. He's played so well that many pundits were surprised that he was left off the Canadian Olympic team.

Crosby said he understood the decision to leave him off the Olympic team, but the snub seems to have motivated him. He's scored five goals and added four assists in the four games since Team Canada was unveiled.

The scoring spurt also also coincided with a move back to centre, the position he held while leading his Rimouski Oceanic to the top of Quebec's junior league .

The Penguins come into Monday's matchup against the Leafs having won their last two games. On Sunday, a Crosby overtime goal gave the Penguins a 4-3 win over the New York Rangers.

"We're playing pretty solid hockey right now and not making too many big mistakes," said Crosby after the overtime victory.

The game-winning goal was Crosby's second of the season. He has 19 goals overall, second only to Washington Capitals sniper Alexander Ovechkin among rookies.

"[Crosby's] a player that in Canada, they love the way he plays and he got a lot of admiration last year when he went to the World Junior and won a gold medal for Team Canada," Penguins coach Michel Therrien said.

"He's a great kid and a good person, and that's what people like about him. They can tell he's a good person."

But not every one is singing Crosby's praises. His most vocal critic is controversial Hockey Night in Canada commentator Don Cherry.

Cherry has called Crosby a "hot dog," and said he doesn't have the experience to be an alternate captain in the NHL.

"An 18-year-old kid says he's going to give us ideas. What, from the Quebec League, he's going to give them ideas? Come on. That's ridiculous," said Cherry during a recent Coach's Corner segment.

Cherry also chastised Crosby for arguing with referees and suggested the rookie had a hand in last month's firing of coach Ed Olczyk.

"No kid should have as much a say as he's got to say, yapping at the referees, doing the whole thing, golden boy," Cherry said. "This kid has really taken over the whole thing."

Crosby doesn't sound fazed by Cherry's barbs.

"People are going to have their opinions," Crosby said. "Whether it's good or bad, I don't really think about it either way. I try to stay pretty level-headed and just do what I have to do."