The Penguins' Sidney Crosby knows, much better than most, what John Tavares of the New York Islanders is going through this winter.
Both broke into the NHL as teenagers and as the centerpiece of a youth movement designed to rejuvenate their respective franchises.
And from what Crosby has seen of Tavares, who will lead the Islanders into Mellon Arena tonight for a game against the Penguins, he believes Tavares is up to the challenges before him.
"He's got a great shot," Crosby said Tuesday. "He sees the ice really well. He's big. He's strong. [With] his work ethic, and seeing how much he cares, he's only going to get better."
Tavares entered the Islanders' game Tuesday night against Nashville at Nassau Coliseum with 17 goals and 16 assists in 58 games, good for third place on the team and second in the NHL rookie scoring race. But after an outstanding start, he has struggled in recent weeks, with no goals and two assists in his previous nine games before facing the Predators.
Crosby can understand that, too, given that Tavares is experiencing the grind of an 82-game NHL schedule for the first time.
"This is a really tough time of year," Crosby said. "Looking back at my rookie year, I probably was really fortunate to have the Olympic break.
"I've always thought February is maybe your most grueling month. You're a little more tired in February, and have to kind of get over that hump before [the stretch drive and playoffs], and the play itself picks up, so you have to raise your game.
"When you're a little bit tired and you have to raise your game, it's not the easiest thing. It's pretty desperate hockey starting in February. Getting that Olympic break is good. You get a little time to re-energize and try to finish strong."
The Penguins have submitted a bid to the NHL to have the 2011 All-Star Game played at the Consol Energy Center. The Penguins hosted that event in Mellon Arena for the only time in 1990, when Mario Lemieux scored four goals and was named most valuable player.
There is no word on when the league will decide where to have next year's game, which originally was to be played in Phoenix. The Coyotes relinquished their claim to the game because of off-ice issues.
Also, the Penguins and Robert Morris University plan to apply to the NCAA to have the Frozen Four played at the Consol Energy Center in 2013 or '14.
Monday is the deadline for that application.
Look for the Penguins to recall a forward from their American Hockey League affiliate in Wilkes-Barre today, because they had only 11 healthy ones for their practice at Mellon Arena Tuesday.
Forward Max Talbot, who has an apparent groin injury, did not participate and is iffy to skate with his teammates again before the Olympic break starts.
"I don't know exactly what [the chances of him practicing this week] are," said coach Dan Bylsma, who described Talbot as "kind of day to day."
Even if Talbot gets clearance to work out on the ice, it's hard to imagine that he would dress for Friday night's game against the New York Rangers or the one Sunday afternoon against Nashville.
There are few guarantees in pro sports, but Penguins officials had no qualms about offering one Tuesday: They are convinced that tonight's game will be the team's 147th sellout in a row at Mellon Arena, regardless of the weather or the drawing power of the Islanders.
Fewer than 300 tickets were available around midday Tuesday, and the Penguins fully expected those to be gone well before game time. If any remain unsold an hour before the opening faceoff they will, as usual, be made available through the Student Rush program.
Dave Molinari: firstname.lastname@example.org . First Published February 10, 2010 5:00 AM