Wings rookie tandem marvels at Crosby's talent

Ted Kulfan
The Detroit News
Dylan Larkin

Grosse Pointe Woods  — Anthony Mantha remembers vividly watching the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver, gold medal game against the  United States, and Sidney Crosby scoring the game-winning goal in overtime.

Mantha was a junior player back then, a youngster years away from the NHL, but the Red Wings rookie enjoyed watching Crosby perform his magic on the ice.

“He’s one of the best players in the world,” said Mantha after Thursday’s practice at Grosse Pointe Woods University Liggett. “I watched him a lot (during the Olympics). Obviously Canada was my team.

“He’s an unreal player.”

As the Red Wings prepared to face Crosby’s Pittsburgh Penguins Saturday, it’s likely they’ll see a Crosby that’s much closer to the caliber everyone associates with himself.

After a sub-par start to the season, Crosby has caught fire and has rocketed to third in the league in scoring with 76 points.

Maybe it was a coaching change, the Penguins replacing Mike Johnston with Mike Sullivan Dec. 12, and since then, Crosby has 57 points in 43 games.

Crosby saw a personal 12-game point streak (six goals, 14 assists, 20 points) end during Thursday’s loss to New Jersey.

“He’s always a threat,” said Mantha, who’ll play his first game against Crosby.

Wojo: Red Wings battle pressure to keep streak alive

Dylan Larkin has mentioned several times about enjoying watching Crosby play when Larkin was a youth.

“He was one of my favorite players when I was growing up,” Larkin said. “It’s cool to play against him and see how strong he is on the puck, how he makes players around him better.

“It’s fun playing against him.”

This will hardly be Henrik Zetterberg’s first time against Crosby. The two have battled in two Stanley Cup Finals series, numerous regular season games, and there’s plenty of mutual respect.

Zetterberg, too, isn’t surprised Crosby has turned his season around.

“I don’t think anyone is surprised, he’s one of the best players in the league,” Zetterberg said. “He had a little slow start to the year, but I don’t think a lot of players were worried (Crosby would continue the slide).

“Overall what he’s doing on the ice is pretty impressive.”

Learning experience

Thursday’s third-period near collapse to Montreal is being viewed as a learning experience by the Red Wings.

Several players mentioned how, maybe, the Red Wings took it a bit easy in the third and it nearly cost them.

“We let off the gas a little bit,” Kyle Quincey said, “It’s a very good league and when you let off just a little bit, they’ll kind of make you pay.

“We grinded it out and got the job done. But it wasn’t pretty.”

What was a 4-0 lead suddenly became 4-3 and the Red Wings had to hold on to the very end.

Said Zetterberg: “They stunned us.”

But the Red Wings were pleased in the fact Montreal’s chances were few and far between the latter part of the third period.

“After they scored the third one, they didn’t have much until the very end,” coach Jeff Blashill said. “After the third goal, we responded well. We have to do a better job of being resilient in that situation.”

Ice chips

Niklas Kronwall didn’t practice Friday, but Blashill expects Kronwall to play against the Penguins, although a final determination will be made before the game.

Kronwall returned from a sprained knee a week ago.

…Mantha had dinner with his family and friends after Thursday’s game, which included his first career NHL goal. Mantha said everyone poked fun at his grandfather Andre Pronovost, who was seen on television tearing up after Mantha scored. “We laughed about his little tears,” Mantha said.

Mantha hasn’t responded to all the texts he received. “I just wanted to have an evening without my phone,” Mantha said. “I have a lot of answering to do today.”

…Defenseman Vili Saarijarvi (2015, 3rd-round draft pick) has been assigned to Grand Rapids. In 59 games with Flint (OHL), Saarijarvi had 12 goals and 31 assists.

Penguins at Red Wings

Faceoff: 2, Saturday, Joe Louis Arena.

TV/radio: FSD/97.1, 1270-AM.

Outlook:   The Penguins are 7-3-0 in their last 10 games and climbed to third place in the Metropolitan Division…Pittsburgh has won both of the previous two games against the Red Wings this season.