Before Mathew Barzal was on his own path to stardom in the NHL, Barzal remembers watching Pittsburgh Penguins star Sidney Crosby on TV dreaming of being him one day. Fast forward to Saturday and Barzal was on the ice for Crosby’s 1,000th NHL game.
“For me, it’s just a cool experience,” Barzal said before the Islanders skated against Pittsburgh. “When you’re out there with him watching him, maybe his numbers are not leading the league in points or anything, but when you’re out there, the details of his game and how crisp he is. He just does everything at such a high pace and he makes plays out there that really no one can make.
“He’s such a good player. It’s so hard to play against him. It’s pretty cool to be a part of his 1,000th game tonight.”
It almost seems fitting that the milestone night for Crosby comes when Pittsburgh hosts the Islanders. Crosby has played some of his best hockey against the Islanders, racking up 116 career points (37 goals, 79 assists) in 70 games versus them.
The 116 points that Crosby has against the Isles is the most that any active player has against one single team.
Crosby had the game-winning goal in the shootout last week when the Islanders fell to Pittsburgh 4-3 at Nassau Coliseum and he scored the opening goal in Thursday’s 4-1 loss.
“He carries himself at a very high standard,” Islanders head coach Barry Trotz said about Crosby, who he coached during the World Cup. “He plays at a very high standard, he prepares himself at an extremely high standard and that’s the reason why he’s been the face of the NHL for probably the last decade here. I just think he has won at every level.”
Crosby has three Stanley Cup titles to his name, two Olympic gold medals, he has won at the World Juniors and at the World Cup of Hockey.
“Seeing him grow as a young player in this league to now a veteran superstar in this league it’s sort of fun to watch,” Trotz said. “As a coach, you just see the development and the growth of a young man who was probably skill-based and he’s learned the complete package from what he can do on the ice and how he can lead off the ice. … He’s one of those gold standard players in the league, no question.”
While Crosby may be the gold standard in the NHL and a future Hall of Famer, trying to emulate his game is not something Barzal is intending on doing. Nor is it something that would come easy anyway.
However, the one lesson that Barzal has learned from Crosby has been how hard he competes.
“He’s 33 years old now and he’s still the hardest competitor on the ice,” Barzal said. “Even when I was at the all-star game two years ago you could tell he wanted to win. He was playing for keeps. I think that was pretty cool for me just to see as a younger guy in the league. It doesn’t matter what age you are, the best guys in the league, the one thing they have in common is that they compete hard.”