PITTSBURGH -- Penguins head coach Dan Bylsma was more than complimentary when asked about the Sharks on Thursday morning, as his team prepares to meet San Jose later at Consol Energy Center.
"I’ve seen them play a little bit more than Chicago. With all due respect to Chicago, I think they’re maybe the best team in the league right now in a lot of different areas,” Bylsma said, going on to cite the Sharks’ even-strength production.
“The way they come at you and the way they play, they’re certainly, I think, the best team in the league right now. Looking forward to the matchup tonight.”
A lower body injury to the Penguins’ Evgeni Malkin will prevent an honest assessment of how these two powerhouse clubs match up against one another, not to mention Pittsburgh is still without several key pieces and San Jose is awaiting Raffi Torres’ return.
Still, the Penguins do, of course, have Sidney Crosby, who hasn’t played against the Sharks since 2009. Prior to learning of Malkin’s injury, I asked Crosby what kind of challenges the Sharks present in terms of strength down the middle.
“A lot. They have some guys who are big and strong, and they like to hold onto pucks in the offensive zone,” Crosby said. “We’ll have to get out of our end pretty quick, and they’re pretty good in the faceoff circle, so making sure that we win faceoffs and get possession of the puck is going to be important. There’s no doubt they have some guys who can create a lot.”
Bylsma, the head coach of the U.S. Olympic team in Sochi, was asked about Thornton specifically.
“When you watch him play, he’s just a big-bodied guy on the power play and in the offensive zone, on the power play. I put him up there as the type of guy like [Ryan] Getzlaf, where you just can’t match the size and can’t match the power that he plays the game with.
“It’s not a guy we’re going to try and put one person on tonight and try to match up physically with him and his game, because I don’t think you can do that. It’s going to have to be five men, and you certainly have to be aware of him. …. His passing ability is uncanny, and I can’t say I’m looking forward to seeing it.”
Crosby, who will be playing in his 500th career game, has never scored in four career games against San Jose. He’s hopeful that his team could get a jolt out of playing another legitimate Stanley Cup contender, something that looks to be in short supply in the Eastern Conference and especially the Metropolitan Division.
“We expect a tough game and definitely want to make sure we’re at our best,” Crosby said. “Any time you get a challenge like that, you want to be at your best.”
“We know they’re a good hockey team. I think you have to be motivated by that challenge, and what they present.”