Olympics looming for some Caps, Pens players

January, 21, 2010

PITTSBURGH -- With the Vancouver Games just around the corner, the talk in both the Capitals and Penguins' dressing rooms is beginning to pick up on the Olympic front. There are five Olympians on each roster.

"We were in Vancouver last week, so you were able to take in some things," said Pens captain Sidney Crosby, who will spearhead Team Canada's offensive attack.

"You're always trying to anticipate and think what things are going to look like, but I was there. It was good mentally to see that and prepare. But for me, the most important thing is that I'm playing as well as possible going into that. That's really been my focus. When time permits, you kind of let yourself think about it."

Penguins defenseman Brooks Orpik will have to try and shut down his buddies Crosby and Evgeni Malkin when Team USA plays Canada and Russia, respectively.

"You do have to go against them both in practice every day. Geno probably doesn't go 100 percent every day, but Sid obviously does," Orpik said with a smile today. "So you get a little taste of it. Those are guys you want on your side, not playing against. It's definitely a unique thing. You invest so much time here with them and then you go up against them in a tournament ... you can't let up on them, though. They'll make you look stupid. They certainly won't let up on you."

Just as long as everybody gets along after the Olympics, right?

"You definitely think, `What if I injure one of those guys? What's the backlash?' But you can't think that way," said Orpik.

Linemates Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom have been a dynamic duo for the Caps for a few years now, but come Vancouver, they'll need to postpone their friendship.

"It's going to be different, but I mean, it's the Olympics," said Backstrom. "We're not friends on the ice there."

The natural rivalry, of course, would be Ovechkin versus Crosby in a gold-medal game, but the Caps superstar wanted none of that talk Wednesday night.

"Why does everyone think Russia and Canada will be in the gold-medal [game]?," said Ovechkin. "I think lots of good teams will be in the tournament. You never know who's going to be the winner over there. Today, [Sweden is] still defending Olympic champions."

Good point, Alex. I asked Backstrom today if he took offense to the fact everyone is talking about a Canada-Russia gold-medal game even though his country is the reigning Olympic champion.

"I think that's good," said Backstrom. "You guys keep talking about Canada and Russia and maybe we can surprise people."

Caps forward Tomas Fleischmann made the Czech Olympic team and likes his team's chances.

"I think everybody is expecting Russia or Canada to win the gold, but I think we have a good chance to fight for the gold," he said. "Our team is really strong. So we'll see."

Of course, not everyone is going to Vancouver. Mike Green was passed over by Team Canada, a tough decision by executive director Steve Yzerman, who went with super sophomore Drew Doughty instead. Green was crushed.

"I'm sort of over it now," said Green. "Obviously I was disappointed at the time, but it is what it is. My main focus this year is the Stanley Cup."

Capitals coach, Bruce Boudreau still can't believe Green wasn't taken.

"He should have been there," said Boudreau. "I don't know what else can be said about him. We all look at Mike Green's faults and everybody jumps on the Duncan Keith bandwagon this year, whereas last year, it was the [Zdeno] Chara bandwagon. But we're in first place mainly because of Mike Green and Alex Ovechkin."

Green leads all NHL blueliners with 50 points (12-38); but most impressive perhaps is his plus-19 rating given the criticism of his defensive play. I think it's clear no matter what he did this season, the Team Canada brain trust wasn't going to forget his lackluster playoff performance last spring.

"That's his only negative thing, is that he didn't have a great playoff, so everybody wants to focus on that," fumed Boudreau. "He's having a tremendous year."

On the Pittsburgh side, Jordan Staal was the big omission. I had him among my Team Canada picks. When Brendan Morrow (upper body) was injured last Saturday, some people wondered if that might open the door for Staal; but it turns out the injury is not serious.

"Coming around good," Morrow told me via text message today. "Plan is best-case Sunday in Denver, if not Wednesday at home against Calgary."

Pierre LeBrun

ESPN Senior Writer



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