TORONTO — Even the most talented players in the world seem to watch Sidney Crosby with awe.
Crosby scored a goal, added two assists and won six of seven draws in a dominant 13-minute performance on Saturday night. But that's not what had his Canadian teammates, NHL all-stars and award winners themselves, raving a day after the 6-0 win over the Czech Republic. It was the other stuff, particularly one defensive play from the last moments of the first period.
Canada was up 2-0 at that point when the Czechs burst out of their own zone with speed, threatening to score. An odd-man rush looked to be forming between forwards Roman Cervenka and Vladimir Sobotka when Crosby, racing feverishly from the other end, appeared.
The Canadian captain whacked Sobotka's stick and sent the puck and scoring attempt fluttering away.
"I thought that was his best play of the night which is pretty crazy because he made so many great plays," said Matt Duchene said on Sunday afternoon. "He's not a guy that's winning Selke Trophies (awarded to the NHL's top defensive forward), but he easily could be. I think that part of his game kind of goes under the radar."
Jay Bouwmeester was the lone Canadian back defending against Cervenka and Sobotka before Crosby came to the rescue. He brought up the effort unprompted as an example of what Crosby, the NHL's third leading scorer last season, brings to the ice beyond the numbers. It may not show up on the scoresheet, but teammates notice it.
"That's one thing I'm really impressed with him is you always know the guys that get the points, but when you see it on a day-to-day basis how they actually play the game... you gain an appreciation for that," Bouwmeester said. "I think that's where guys at this level, you really look at a guy and say 'Wow, he's a pretty special player'."
Duchene has trained closely with Crosby over the years and pays close attention to everything he does. He's been struck by Crosby's competitiveness, recalling one example from when the two were skating together in Los Angeles. A scoring competition ensued with the loser was responsible for hauling the winner's sweaty gear back to the hotel.
Crosby's fire was evident even then, Duchene said.
"Whether we were playing for that or we're playing for a gold medal in Sochi (at the 2014 Olympics), the compete level is always there and it encourages you to let that part go for yourself," said the 25-year-old. "Like, it's OK to be competitive."
Crosby shone before the World Cup, too. He dominated the second half of the NHL's regular season and won the Conn Smythe Trophy as post-season MVP, leading the Pittsburgh Penguins to their fourth Stanley Cup.
Jonathan Toews thinks Crosby was basically picking up right where he left off in Saturday's World Cup opener.
"It's like he hasn't gotten off the ice," Toews said.
Logan Couture was a bitter rival when his San Jose Sharks played Crosby's Penguins in the Stanley Cup final. Couture was openly frustrated at one point with Crosby's faceoff tactics in the six-game series loss. Now, as a teammate, he's only amazed.
"He really is the best player in the world," Couture said. "It's fun just to be able to watch him every day."
Playing on the west coast with the Sharks, Couture says he doesn't often get the chance to watch Crosby live, but now up close he's seen some things. There's the strength, the plays with and without the puck, "the way he jumps into the open space (and) into the open ice, his vision — everything."
When Crosby did score on Saturday night it was particularly memorable.
Crosby threw a puck off the back of Czech goaltender Michal Neuvirth for the first Canadian goal, dished a point pass to Brent Burns for Canada's second goal and then forced a turnover that led to Patrice Bergeron giving the Canadians a 3-0 lead. Then, nearing the midway point of the middle period, Crosby bounced off a check from Martin Hanzal, took a pass from Duchene and without appearing to even look found Joe Thornton wide open on Neuvirth's doorstep.
"Like I said, he's the best player in the world," Couture said. "He makes the plays seem so effortless."