Two great captains set to square off
Over the course of the NHL's long, arduous season, it can be tough -- if not impossible -- for players to get pumped up each and every night.
A game at Columbus, Buffalo, Carolina or Colorado just doesn't get the juices flowing for a team like the Chicago Blackhawks.
But you'd better believe that won't be the case when Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Phil Kessel and the defending champion Pittsburgh Penguins come to town for a nationally televised game Wednesday.
The Penguins, one of four teams in the Metropolitan Division with 80 or more points, are looking to become the first repeat champion since the 1998 Detroit Red Wings.
Fans will want to keep their eyes on the team's two captains, both of whom are smoking hot with the playoffs just six weeks away.
Crosby leads the league with 34 goals in 54 games and has a chance to win his third Art Ross Trophy, given to the player with the most points at season's end. The re-energized Jonathan Toews, meanwhile, has a whopping 24 points in the last 14 games.
Of course for everything that Crosby and Toews do on the ice, the two captains also are incredible leaders in their respective dressing rooms.
"Extremely competitive. Expect a lot of themselves. Lead by example. Don't say a whole lot," said Hawks coach Joel Quenneville. "But how they carry themselves, they know (when to speak out). They say it the right way. Good spokesmen for their teams."
Toews has shown that from the moment the Hawks named him their captain at just 20 years old. Somehow, it never phased him.
"Thinking about it now it should have been way more awkward than it actually was," said Toews, who was quick to point out he had plenty of help from veterans such as Martin Lapointe, Kevyn Adams and Yanic Perreault.
"At the time I was excited about the opportunity. I put a lot of pressure on myself; obviously I took it very seriously. But I also knew I had a lot of time to grow, and (even) at this point I know I've got to grow and improve.
"Whenever we had that team success, the captain always gets a lot of credit, and I've always been quick to point out that there's a lot of leaders in this room … that I was just happy and lucky to be a part of. That's kind of the way I looked at it ever since."
Marian Hossa got a taste of what it's like to be Crosby's teammate when he was sent from Atlanta to Pittsburgh at the trade deadline in 2008. The Penguins made it all the way to the Stanley Cup Final but fell to Detroit in six games.
Hossa actually scored with 1:27 left in Game 6 to trim the Red Wings' lead to 3-2, and Crosby nearly tied it in the waning seconds, but the shot didn't find its mark.
"Great memories. Lots of friends," Hossa said. "Successful run there until the last game. I enjoyed it. I think it's a great organization."
Although he only spent about four months in Pittsburgh, Hossa still keeps in touch with Crosby, the second-youngest player to ever be named a team's captain. Hossa marveled at how Sid the Kid and Toews both could take on such a huge leadership role at such a young age.
"Jonny and Sid are similar guys -- great leaders, super talents, great in the dressing room, and they're also great people," Hossa said. "Sid, the way he handles himself from such a young age to be captain, I think it's tremendous. Not many guys can handle things like that, and same thing with Jonny, so there's lots of similarities."
Scouting reportBlackhawks vs. Pittsburgh Penguins at United Center, 7 p.m. Wednesday
Radio: WGN 720-AM
The skinny: Going into Tuesday's game at Dallas, Sidney Crosby had piled up 34 goals in just 54 games to lead the NHL. He also had 67 points, good for second in the league behind Connor McDavid's 71. Patrick Kane is third with 65. … Crosby's 19.0 shooting percentage ranked 10th among players with at least 80 shots. Artem Anisimov (22.0) was second, behind Washington's T.J. Oshie (22.9). … Scott Darling starts in net for the Hawks. … Richard Panik will attempt to extend a six-game point streak in which he has 4 goals and 5 assists.
Next: New York Islanders at United Center, 7:30 p.m. Friday
-- John Dietz