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Rookie Crosby shows that he really gets it

Rookie Crosby shows that he really gets it

If you're expecting Sidney Crosby to look exhausted, beaten down by the pressure and the losing and the grind and the peculiar welcoming tactics of hockey veterans, forget about it.

That saying about youth being wasted on the young? Doesn't apply here. The 18-year-old Crosby seems to be getting quite a bit out of his own youth.

This isn't a rookie who is going to be a great player. This is a rookie who already is a great player. Watching him dominate for stretches against a very good Flyers team Monday night made that abundantly clear.

Crosby's gorgeous assist on the game-tying goal late in the third period was straight out of the Peter Forsberg playbook. Easy to draw up, but requiring Forsbergian skill to execute.

"I saw (Michel) Ouellet's stick on the ice," Crosby said. "He's always got his stick on the ice around the net."

Which is an assist of another kind. After the Flyers' 4-2 victory, there is a press scrum around Crosby. The rest of the Penguins vacate the dressing room that is open to the media and disappear into the inner sanctum. No one cares. It's Sid's team.

So it's interesting that Crosby turns the play into a testament to Ouellet's skill with the stick. The kid gets it. He'd better.

Look, it's probably a little silly to feel bad for someone who has Crosby's future bank balance. But that doesn't make it any easier to watch.

This 18-year-old kid gets the puck and roughly 19,000 Flyers fans packing the Wachovia Center boo him.

"It was only the first time I touched it," Crosby said, literally shrugging it off. "After that, it died down a little. All you can do it try to use it as motivation."

The fans boo because of the hype, of course. Coming back from the absurdity of last year's lockout, Crosby was set up as the future of the sport. The One. But it goes beyond that.

A couple months ago, Flyers coach Ken Hitchcock created quite a stir by accusing Crosby of taking dives - which is against the rules and also kind of against the macho code that governs the sport - and drawing tripping penalties.

It transpired that Flyers defenseman Derrian Hatcher had broken three of Crosby's teeth with a stick, a play that drew no penalty at all.

The fans are responding to the sense that Crosby is this privileged little twerp who plays to the referees' empathy by pretending to get knocked around by the grown-ups he faces every night. So there was a kind of karmic justice when Flyers forward Sami Kapanen was called for a diving penalty in the second period. The player whom he was diving from? Sidney Crosby, of course.

The penalty set up Mark Recchi's goal, cutting the Flyers' lead from 2-0 to 2-1.

It would be really hard to blame an 18-year-old kid for gloating after the game. But Crosby shrugged another one off.

"That's one of those things, it's a judgment call," he said. "It's not one of those things you really want to see. It happens, though."

The Penguins had just lost their 10th consecutive game, in spite of Crosby's terrific setup on the tying goal. With the second-worst record in the NHL, and Mario Lemieux announcing his share of the team was for sale, the team might start dumping big-salaried veterans. In other words, Crosby is on a team in transition.

Other than that, Mr. Crosby, how is your big rookie year going?

"It's frustrating sometimes," he said. "But giving up and not working hard is not going to help. That would only make things worse."

Meanwhile, he is expected to help sell a league that desperately needs to be sold.

"I don't look at it that way," Crosby said, and you believe him.But he really may be The One, the next true superstar asked to carry this league. One thing's for sure. The NHL could do a lot worse.

In other NHL action: Carolina 7, Montreal 3; Boston 3, Washington 2; Nashville 3, Detroit 2; Ottawa 4, Toronto 3; St. Louis 4, Vancouver 0; Dallas 4, Phoenix 1; Calgary 3, Edmonton 1; Los Angeles 3, Anaheim 2, SO.