Battle of the Captains: Crosby, Giroux, and Toews, Oh My!

The Pittsburgh Penguins did not have a good week and that is putting it lightly.  After losing Olli Maatta for the remainder of the season due to shoulder surgery and dropping both contests to Metropolitan Division rivals the New York Islanders and New York Rangers by decisive margins, the Penguins head into another competitive set of games before the much needed All-Star break.

Tuesday, January 20 2015 vs. Philadelphia Flyers

Sidney Crosby Claude Giroux fighting
Claude Giroux did a fabulous job of throwing Sidney Crosby off his game when these two met in the first round of 2011-2012 playoffs. (Eric Hartline-US PRESSWIRE)

The Battle of Pennsylvania renews itself once more this campaign and the Penguins, once again, are looking for vengeance after falling to the Flyers on home-ice on October 22 by a 5-3 score.  The contest saw the debut of the Penguins third jerseys, Nick Spaling’s first goal as a Penguin, and the usual fisticuffs (Simon Despres vs. R.J. Umberger).

The game also saw Jakub Voracek and Claude Giroux picking up two assists each and an empty net goal by Sean Couturier.

Heading into Tuesday’s contest, one aspect may favor the Penguins; the game is on the road.

Philadelphia has absolutely dominated the Penguins at the Consol Energy Center, posting a commanding 10-1-1 record since its inception in 2010.  The Flyers also hold the overall series lead with a record of 147-93-30

It is no secret that these two have bad blood with one another and that, once again, is being put lightly.  Ever since the heated and wildly unpredictable playoff series that saw the Penguins bounced in the second round, this rivalry has taken on a new level of intensity.

The debate, although feeble, that Giroux is better than Crosby has sparked the ire of many a fan for their respective team and has created even more incentive for each captain to outshine the other during these head-to-head match-ups.  Ever since Giroux’s impressive start to Game Six, things have never been the same between he and Crosby.

Looking forward to Tuesday’s match-up, the Penguins need to play a disciplined road hockey game.  Short shifts, dump and chase and grind it out against the Flyers.  The track meets that Bylsma and company would fall victim to in the past would only prove to be a downfall for the Penguins.  The Flyers rely on a run-and-gun type of offense and when the Penguins attempt to match them, the results have not been in their favor.

With the slew of injuries and determination to get back on a winning track, look for the Penguins to come out with an explosive start and quiet the Flyers raucous, rowdy, and orange clad crowd from the get go.

Wednesday, January 21 vs. Chicago Blackhawks

(Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports)
(Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports)

Following their contest in Philadelphia, the Penguins will hit the ice Wednesday night against the perennial Stanley Cup favorite Chicago Blackhawks.

Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Kris Letang, Marc-Andre Fleury go up against Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Patrick Sharp, Marian Hossa, Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook in a game that could be dubbed The All-Star Prequel.

With such talent on the ice, one cannot think this game will be dull by any means.  Many Team Canada and Team USA alliances will be tested and the question will inevitably arise: who is better, Crosby or Toews? In their last meeting on March 30, 2014, Crosby proved triumphant as he scored two goals in the Penguins 4-1 victory.

While both are phenomenal centermen and a coin toss away from who would captain Team Canada any day, it will be the role players that make the difference in this contest.

The two teams have a very similar background in terms of their maturation to NHL powerhouses.  Both teams struggled for several years and acquired high end draft picks.  Through their prospects, they eventually began to work their way up the ladder and become young, hungry forces just waiting in the wings for their opportunities.

In 2009, Sidney Crosby hoisted the Stanley Cup.  In 2010 and 2013, Jonathan Toews did the same.

As both men and teams have matured, a battle between league giants will be nothing short of classic before the All-Star Break.

Closing Thoughts

The Penguins will enjoy the much welcomed break that All-Star Weekend provides, but cannot get complacent in their lethargy for the week.  After the festivities conclude, the Penguins close out January with battles between the Winnipeg Jets and Washington Capitals who are two of the hottest teams in the league at the moment.  They also face off with the New Jersey Devils, another Metropolitan Division opponent.

Accumulating a mediocre 3-3-1 record so far this month, the Penguins need to get back to their winning ways and ride into the All-Star break with four huge points.

It would not hurt either if Crosby would put up two phenomenal performances to solidify the fact that he is the best captain in hockey.