Hearsay: Crosby hits his stride

Sidney Crosby's teammates have seen their captain return to an elite level of play. (AP)

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CROSBY HITS HIS STRIDE

The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review recalls how Sidney Crosby was producing points during the season’s first few weeks, but he wasn’t all the way back. He was committing uncharacteristic turnovers and losing occasional battles on the boards, something that usually never happens.

At some point during the past month, the Penguins say they believe the real Crosby surfaced, the rust of playing 28 games in 24 months finally brushed aside.

“Don’t know exactly when it happened,” defenseman Matt Niskanen said, “but it did.”

Crosby produced seven points in the season’s first seven games — all in January. Crosby’s numbers skyrocketed when the calendar turned to February. Scoring league-wide, meanwhile, dropped almost a half-goal.

Since the beginning of February, Crosby has produced 29 points in 16 games. He has at least one point in 13 of those games. Crosby has recorded seven three-point nights during that span.

“He’s been good all year,” Niskanen said. “But now he’s got that next element in his game. He literally feels like he’s going to bust a big play every time he has the puck. He’s also dominating down low a lot more.”

Niskanen, like others in the Penguins’ locker room, said he believes there is a clear No. 1 player in the hockey right now.

“You can make arguments for whoever you want,” Niskanen said. “Sid is different than everyone else. He’s just got something more.”

NUGENT-HOPKINS REMAINS PATIENT

The Edmonton Sun details that Ryan Nugent-Hopkins knows his offensive game has to get better. As the Edmonton Oilers first-line centre, his one goal in 21 games this season is a reflection of the team’s struggles.

Yet going up against opponent’s top lines for the majority of the year, Nugent-Hopkins and the Oilers know what he does in his own end is as equally important to the club’s success.

It’s not the first time Nugent-Hopkins has struggled to score under intense scrutiny. As a junior with the Red Deer Rebels, he got off to a slow start in his draft year, leading to speculation as to whether he should be considered the top prospect that summer.

Nugent-Hopkins put all that speculation to rest, going on to finish with 31 goals and 106 points.

“It’s a little bit different here, but I went through stuff like this in junior too,” he said. “I know my second year in junior before Christmas I think I had five goals or something like that. It’s just something that you have to stick with, not let yourself get frustrated.

“To me being good defensively is very important. I want to be trusted by the coach and that all starts with my defensive play. I’m going to keep working on it and I’m not going to let myself get frustrated by it. I’m just going to keep working.”

ALFREDSSON REFLECTS ON VISOR CHOICE

The Ottawa Sun describes how on March 11, 2000, Daniel Alfredsson had a first-hand view when an accidental high stick by teammate Marian Hossa almost caused Maple Leafs defenceman Bryan Berard to lose an eye.

“Seeing that didn’t convince me to wear a visor,” Alfredsson recalled Wednesday. “I just thought it was a fluke thing.”

Not until he subsequently took a high stick to the face against the Edmonton Oilers did the Ottawa Senators captain finally opt to put on a face shield.

Having said that, Alfredsson will not go as far as to say visors should be mandatory, even after the Rangers’ Marc Staal took a puck in the face in a scary incident on Tuesday night against Philadelphia.

“It’s a tough call,” Alfredsson said. “Had I not been hit in the eye and been out of action for a week because of it, I probably wouldn’t have put one on myself. I will say that, after all this time of wearing one, you don’t even notice it out there.”

BUDAJ’S START DIDN’T BOTHER PRICE

The Montreal Gazette notes Canadiens goaltender Carey Price dismissed a suggestion that his recent problems were more mental than physical but he did say: “You can’t let one or two goals get you down.”

Price also said that he wasn’t upset that backup goaltender Peter Budaj was given the start Sunday in Boston and that he wasn’t given an immediate opportunity to bounce back from the fiasco against the Penguins.

“We had back-to-back games. We have a strong goaltender in (Budaj),” Price said. “The coach has confidence in both of us and we came out with the win.

“The Pittsburgh game didn’t go the way I wanted it to and I wanted to come back with a strong game (on Long Island). It didn’t go my way again but that’s the way it goes sometimes. Today was a day to refocus and get ready for the next game. Obviously, when you give up as many goals as we did in such a short period of time, there are some details to work out.”

FAREWELL FLORIDA FOR WEISS?

The Miami Herald recounts how Panthers center Stephen Weiss made the decision to have season-ending wrist surgery.

A pending free agent, Weiss might have played his final game with the Panthers after more than a decade with the team. Drafted fourth overall at the 2001 draft held at the Panthers’ arena in Sunrise, Weiss is in his 11th season with Florida.

“It kind of burns at me that is how I could be going out,” Weiss said. “But that’s life sometimes. You have to deal with the cards you’re dealt. This is not an easy decision for myself or the team, but it’s something that needs to be done. If it is the last game, it’s the last game. I just hope everyone understands why I made this decision. It’s been a good ride.”

Weiss, who turns 30 next month, hasn’t ruled out a return to the Panthers, saying “it would be awesome to finish my career here.”

The reality is Weiss’ agent and the organization haven’t spoken about a new deal and the Panthers will likely want to see how this surgery goes before a new long-term deal is talked about.

Weiss said he would welcome a return to the Panthers and said he hopes to chat with the team “in the not-too distant future.”

“I started my career here and you don’t see that too often, guys staying for one team,” Weiss said. “That would be great. But they have to want me back. If they do, those will be decisions I have to make at some point. I’m going to look at all the options and see what’s best for me moving forward.”

NO REGRETS FOR WILD’S PARISE

The Chicago Sun-Times believes Blackhawks fans can’t help but wonder what the team would have looked like this season if Zach Parise had signed with the Hawks instead of the Minnesota Wild.

But Parise, who chose a 13-year, $98 million deal with the Wild over the Hawks and the New Jersey Devils, doesn’t let his mind wander in that direction.

“No, it’s over,” he said Tuesday morning in the United Center’s visitors’ dressing room.

Wild coach Mike Yeo is quite pleased that the American star chose his team over the Hawks.

“When you sign a contract like that, you’re always going to be measured statistically, people are always going to look at the bottom line,” Yeo said. “But with a player like Zach, there is so much more that he brings to the table. Our team has really started to pick up our game, and it’s not a coincidence. This is a guy that delivers every night. The work ethic that he brings doesn’t cheat the team in any way, he’s going to go out and do things the right way. He’s a huge part of our team.”

NO SETBACKS FOR BRODEUR

The Star-Ledger reports Devils goaltender Martin Brodeur has not suffered a setback with his ailing back.

“No. Absolutely not. In fact, the opposite,” general manager Lou Lamoriello said today. “No setback. That I can assure you.”

So why is Brodeur, who is on injured reserve, no longer listed as day to day?

“It’s his back. You know backs. He was day to day and now the doctors feel he needs to rest a little more,” Lamoriello explained. “When will he come back? Will it be three days, four days, five days? It could be a week from now. We don’t know. He was day to day. It’s just taking a little longer. He just didn’t feel better.”