On the Penguins: Just another opponent?



Brooks Orpik is a fiercely competitive guy, and realizes he could have offered up the standard, scripted response without anyone objecting.

You know, the one about how, when it comes to playing at the Olympics, it really doesn't matter if an opponent doubles as his teammate on the Penguins.

That if the opportunity presents itself for him to deliver a hit that would reduce Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin or Jussi Jokinen or Chris Kunitz to little more than a stain on the ice, he would take full advantage of it.

Without reservation. Without remorse.

But the reality can be a bit more complicated than that, as Orpik, who will be part of Team USA for the second time, learned in a couple of games against Canada at the 2010 Games in Vancouver.

The Canadian roster, of course, included Crosby, whose overtime goal against the U.S. ultimately clinched a gold medal for his country.

He and Orpik won a Stanley Cup together in 2009, and would like to do it another few times.

And Orpik -- like pretty much everyone associated with the game -- appreciates that the prospects of winning more championships will be greatly enhanced if Crosby is healthy.

Which is why, while Orpik is adamant that he won't pass on a chance to hit Crosby -- or any other Penguins player -- next month at the 2014 Games in Sochi, Russia, neither will he approach chances to play the body against him as a seek-and-destroy mission.

"The right answer is to say, yeah, you just look at them the same as all the other [opponents], but I know it crossed my mind every time I was on the ice with Sid [in Vancouver]," Orpik said.

THE WEEK AHEAD
 
Monday: vs. Florida ... Remember when the Panthers won the Southeast Division championship two seasons ago? Some people associated with that team probably don't, either.
Wednesday: vs. Montreal ... The Canadiens' 3-2 victory Nov. 23 at Bell Centre is their only regulation win in their past eight meetings with the Penguins.
Thursday: at New York Islanders ... The Penguins have a chance to win two games at Nassau Coliseum for the seventh time in the past nine seasons.
Saturday: at Dallas ... The Stars were in a serious tailspin recently, losing six in a row. Probably had something to do with Tony Romo.

"It wasn't that I went easy on him -- anytime you go easy on those guys, they make you look pretty silly -- but I'm not going to lie: If he's coming through the middle with his head down, I'm probably not going to try to run him over."

If Orpik changes his mind about that, Crosby apparently wouldn't carry a grudge. From his perspective, wearing a different sweater -- even if it's only for a couple of weeks -- temporarily alters the relationship he has with teammates in the NHL.

"For the odd time that I do decide to give a hit, if it happens to be [a fellow Penguin], that's part of the game," Crosby said. "And I would understand if it was the other way around and [Paul Martin] or [Orpik] had to make a play and finish their check on me.

"That's just the game. That's the way it works.

"I don't know that I'll necessarily be looking for a cross-check, an extra cross-check, or a glove to the face after the whistle [from a Penguins teammate], but other than that, it's just playing hockey. We all kind of do what we need to do."

Jokinen, who will represent Finland in the Olympics for the third time, noted that when he was with Dallas in 2006, he and three fellow Finns faced a U.S. squad than included Stars teammates Bill Guerin and Mike Modano.

Their NHL ties, he said, did not bind them. And the same will be true in Sochi.

"During the game, you're not thinking that they're your [NHL] teammates," Jokinen said. "You're just playing for your country.

"You know that before the game and you think that after the game, but during the game, you just think that you're playing for your country and you do everything you can to win that game."

That mindset, Crosby said, crosses all international boundaries.

"We're all in the same position," he said. "We know that we all want to do our best. That just kind of comes with the territory.

"We all realize that it can get heated, it can get emotional and that it's going to be intense. But it's not personal. It's just the way things are."


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