Lemieux: Crosby's recent play tops his own
Mario Lemieux steps on the ice for a shift against the Capitals during an alumni game at Heinz Field Friday.
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Mario Lemieux dished two assists in the Winter Classic alumni game Friday at Heinz Field, then discussed the Penguins' current captain in some strikingly superlative terms.
In his first news conference since the 2009 Stanley Cup final, the franchise's greatest player and co-owner was asked if he felt Sidney Crosby was performing at the same level of Lemieux in his prime.
"Absolutely," Lemieux replied. "I think it's much tougher to dominate the league now, the way it's set up. For him to go out there and do the things he does every night, every shift, it's incredible. His toughness is unbelievable, his training, his shooting ability has gotten better the past couple years ... what he's doing now is much more impressive than what I did years ago."
Of Crosby's 25-game points streak, which ended Wednesday: "He's an incredible player, an incredible person, and what he just did for those 25 games, all those points, that's pretty hard to do in this day and age. It's not the same as 20 years ago with the good goalies and defensive schemes that are there now."
Elaborating on what makes Crosby special: "He's basically hockey 24 hours a day. He sleeps hockey, it seems like. His work ethic, doing the same thing every day ... I don't think what the opposition does really bothers him. He goes on the ice, knows what he needs to do and tries to do it every shift."
Lemieux, 45, still flashed the occasional wizardry with his hands, even as the legs lagged a bit in the 5-5 tie with Washington's alumni.
"I thought he did just fine," right winger and longtime conditioning partner Jay Caufield said. "The magic was still there."
"Glad it's over," Lemieux said moments afterward with a smile and an exhale.
Lemieux set up a tap-in for Robbie Brown in the first of the two regulation periods, perhaps finally accounting for the milestone goal Brown failed to get when he netted 49 by Lemieux's side in the 1988-89 season.
"It took 20 years," Lemieux said, with a grin. "It was great to play with him, Bob Errey, Rick Tocchet, Kevin Stevens ... all my old linemates over the years. It was a little slower, but a lot of fun."
The second of Lemieux's assists came on a power-play goal by Ron Francis at 14:22 of the third period that gave the Penguins a 5-4 lead. That turn-back-the-clock unit also featured Kevin Stevens up front, with Larry Murphy and Paul Coffey on the points. All but Stevens are in the Hall of Fame, and it showed in the tape-to-tape movement that led to Francis' tip.
"A lot of fun," Francis called it.
"Yeah, it looked like we knew what we were doing," Lemieux said.
"Pretty much the same setup we had 20 years ago."
In general, Lemieux added: "It was fun to be part of it, to be outdoors, the weather was beautiful, and just to see some of the faces again, guys I hadn't seen in a long time, guys from the Cup years ... it was special for all of us. And I'm sure it was for the Washington guys, as well. These are some memories we'll cherish for a long time."
On other topics, Lemieux commented:
• On whether Crosby and Washington star Alexander Ovechkin are comparable to Lemieux and Wayne Gretzky: "They've got two different styles from Gretzky and myself. Of course, Ovechkin is very physical, has a great shot. Sid is more about controlling the play and using his strength. It's a little different. Gretz was more about finesse and curling and making plays to buy some time, and you can't do that anymore with all the back pressure. So, different styles, different eras."
• On having the Winter Classic in Pittsburgh: "It's exciting for the franchise and, of course, for the fans here who have been supporting us all through my career and as long as I've been here. Anytime you can host a Winter Classic in your own city, it's pretty special. We've come a long way. It was a real struggle for many years before the lockout, but the CBA allowed us to put a great product on the ice and compete at the level we wanted to."
• On the quality of the ice: "Great. A couple times, in the neutral zone, there was a puddle here and there, but they came out and fixed it. The ice was pretty good."
• On the chances of weather postponing the main game: "It doesn't look good, but it can change. It would be a shame not to have the game this weekend."
First Published January 1, 2011 12:00 am