MONTREAL -- It was a trip that started with some tension -- at least on the part of the NHL -- but as Sidney Crosby settled into a suite at the Bell Centre to watch the main event last night, he was as thrilled with his All-Star Game experience as he could be considering he wasn't playing.
"It was a fun weekend," said the Penguins center, who was voted a starter for the Eastern Conference but pulled out because of a left knee injury. "They did a great job here. It's a place that really loves hockey, and they show it."
Crosby had already decided to attend once it was determined he would not play, and he altered his plans at the request of the league to be here Friday, a day earlier than he originally would have.
The NHL has begun cracking down on players who pull out of the All-Star Game citing injury but who play in their team's final game before the break. Crosby sat out one game after he got hurt Jan. 16, then played in two games on the injured knee.
While he was here, Crosby did a series of interviews, some live during broadcasts of the events, but he also took time to spend with his parents, who traveled with him from Nova Scotia, and the other All-Stars -- in the locker room and on the town.
"It was good just to see all the guys," said Crosby. "It's probably the most fun you have, getting to spend time with the guys instead of having a normal opponent. It's a different atmosphere. It's more relaxed."
He surprised fans when he opted to walk the red carpet Saturday night before the SuperSkills, and he got a warm reception when he was introduced at ice level before the game last night.
He also watched as teammate Evgeni Malkin -- who leads the league in scoring with 70 points but is one of its lesser-ballyhooed stars because of his shy demeanor and rudimentary English -- had a breakout weekend.
"He did an awesome job, especially in the skills competition," Crosby said. "It was fun watching."
Malkin took part in a comedic skit when Washington's Alex Ovechkin was in the breakaway contest, and he won the accuracy shooting contest, hitting all four targets on four shots, then beating Ottawa's Dany Heatley in a tiebreaker by hitting three of four.
"I called that," Crosby said proudly. "They asked me who I thought was going to win the sharpshooting competition and I said [Malkin]. He's perfect for that."
Crosby said hanging out in Montreal did not noticeably hinder his injury any more than resting at home might have.
"It feels OK, but I won't know until I skate," he said. "We'll try it [today] and see how I feel and go from there."
The Penguins' next game is Wednesday at home against the New York Rangers.
The merits of the All-Star Game have been debated for years, and now there is an alternative getting attention -- the outdoor Winter Classic.
"For sure, the Jan. 1 game, the Winter Classic, is a great way to promote the game," Anaheim All-Star goaltender J.S. Giguere said. "Maybe they'll go more toward that than the All-Star Game, but for now I intend to have fun and everybody else can say what they want about this game.
"It's still about the league first and foremost all weekend. It's a big way to promote the league and the game."
Another Western Conference representative, San Jose's Joe Thornton, wouldn't trade it for a favorite vacation spot for West Coasters, even for an 80-degree temperature swing.
"I enjoy it," he said of the All-Star Game. "Sure, you could be in Hawaii getting a suntan, but I enjoy coming to these events. There's no other place I'd rather be this weekend."
The Phoenix Coyotes' Jobing.com Arena in Glendale, Ariz., is next door to University of Phoenix Stadium, where the Cardinals play. So Coyotes All-Star Shane Doan has become a big fan of the NFC Super Bowl team that will face the Steelers Sunday in Tampa, Fla.
"Just the other day, we had four or five of them come down to the locker room," Doan said.
"What a game it's going to be. Obviously, Pittsburgh's got the best defense in the league, and the Cardinals, right now their offense is clicking as well as any team's has in the playoffs.
"I'm obviously picking the Cardinals."
Despite having Wayne Gretzky as coach and managing partner, the Coyotes are having trouble drawing fans and are having to fend off reports of impending bankruptcy.
Doan, who won the SuperSkills shootout Saturday night, has a pretty good handle on the sports scene in the Phoenix area and remains convinced there is a way the hockey team can solve its financial problems.
"If we win, people will come," he said. "It's a very large metropolis, but if you're not winning and putting a good product on the field, there's no use in coming. There's too much competition. Hopefully, we win as a team."
The Coyotes have not made the playoffs since 2001-02 but are in fifth place in the Western Conference coming out of the All-Star break.
Doan ran through the competition -- baseball's Diamondbacks and various spring training teams, the NBA Suns, the Cardinals, NASCAR events, pro golf events, occasional Super Bowls, college bowl games and a rotation of the Bowl Championship Series national title game.
"And you've got the weather to compete with, where people come down there to go golfing," he said.
"It's an unbelievable sports town, but you have to win."