TORONTO — Sidney Crosby has been surrounded by the best hockey players on the planet at the World Cup of Hockey, and still seems as if he is in a class by himself.
“He’s probably the best player of our generation,” Canada goaltender Carey Price said.
The Pittsburgh Penguins superstar has a World Cup-high nine points _ two more than anyone else — and is within a win of adding another accomplishment to his Hockey Hall of Fame-ready resume. Canada will play Team Europe in Game 2 Thursday night, leading the best-of-three series 1-0.
The eight-nation European team has been led lately by Tomas Tatar, who scored his team’s only goal in a 3-1 loss Tuesday night. The Slovakian forward scored twice, including the game-winner, in a 3-2 overtime victory over Sweden in the semifinals on Sunday.
Tatar, who plays for the Detroit Red Wings, acknowledged he is inspired by Crosby’s greatness. And he knows slowing Crosby down is a key to forcing a Game 3 on Saturday night.
“I’m not saying one guy should be standing by him, but we should be always aware of where he is on the ice,” Tatar said.
Crosby has been much more effective than he was in his last best-on-best tournament appearance. He had only one goal and two assists at the 2014 Sochi Games, where he won his second Olympic gold medal.
In the World Cup opener against the Czech Republic alone, he produced as many points with a goal and two assists in a sensational stretch of the game that lasted less than 20 minutes.
Crosby insisted he could not care less that he has already tripled the number of points he had in Russia.
“I just want to win,” he said. “At the end of the day, that’s what you want to do. In Sochi, it was more about why weren’t we scoring, low-scoring games, and the teams we were playing we’re supposed to be winning by a certain amount of goals.
“At the end of the day, we were winning games,” he said. “It’s always nice to score, but we knew that we had to play a certain way and sometimes that meant not scoring five or six to win.”
Mike Babcock, Crosby’s coach at the previous two Olympics, put Crosby on a line with Boston Bruins teammates Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron at the World Cup. The trio has combined for 22 points in five games.
“He got feeling it early,” Babcock said. “And, he’s feeling it and he thinks it’s going in.”
Crosby has continued the roll he started last season when he won his second Stanley Cup and was named the post-season MVP with 19 points in 24 games. He was the runner-up for the Hart Trophy, coming close to being named NHL MVP for the third time in his career. And, he finished a career-high seventh in voting for the Selke Trophy that recognizes the league’s best defensive forward.
“He’s been obviously playing really well since last December,” said Zdeno Chara, a Team Europe defenceman who also plays for the Bruins. “He really raised his game.”
Canadian and Los Angeles Kings defenceman Drew Doughty said Crosby is probably playing better than he ever has.
“The three tournaments I’ve had the opportunity, I would say he’s playing unbelievable,” Doughty said. “Things are working for him now. He’s hot. Not that he didn’t play well at the other tournaments, he just didn’t get his hot.”