by Mike Chen on 01/04/09 at 06:32 PM ET
Since Saturday night, Sidney Crosby’s been called every name in the book – either positive (“What a leader!”) or negative (“What a dirty player!”), depending on your view of his bout with Florida’s Brett McLean. I’m guilty of it too, as I joked about Crosby’s pretty apparent lack of fighting skills. But stepping back from that and looking at the bigger picture, one could pretty easily see that the whole symbolizes just how frustrating this Pittsburgh Penguins season has been.
Where do the Penguins go from here? Let’s look at some of the burning questions facing the team, both from the outsider’s perspective and inside the locker room.
Is Crosby a dirty player? One of the big debates going on involves how the fight actually started – with Crosby jumping McLean off the face-off. Crosby claims he asked McLean to go, McLean says he head something but he didn’t “pick it up.” I’m guessing what actually happened is this: Crosby asked, McLean said something unrelated, and Crosby took it as a yes. I wouldn’t call that dirty, just misconstrued.
And let’s face it – there aren’t too many choir boys in the NHL. As much as Jarome Iginla is a good guy off the ice, he’s can be brutal on it – sometimes clean, sometimes not. To expect any hockey player to be squeaky clean is rather absurd, but you can blame the NHL’s marketing machine for that more than anything else.
Is Crosby a good leader? I wouldn’t call any player at Crosby’s age a good leader. This goes to Jonathan Toews too. I’d say that at that point in their career, they’ve got the qualities of a leader but they lack the experience to make the right choices. Was fighting the right way to try and spark his team? Since the Pens were down by three in the second period – a deficit they could come back from – taking himself out of the game with a bunch of penalties probably wasn’t smart.
What would have been better is if he’d started checking Panthers hard on the forecheck and strongly driving the net. Leading by example is always a good way to go, especially when you add a physical grinding element to a highly skilled game. It would have fired up the Pittsburgh crowd and it would have shown his teammates that he wasn’t backing down. After all, one good shift can swing the momentum of a game, especially when you carry the talent of the Penguins.
But perhaps that’s where the wisdom of experience comes in. Noble intentions, poor execution.
What’s wrong with the Penguins? This Pittsburgh team has battled inconsistency from the start of the season and a big part of that stems from injuries. Power play quarterback Sergei Gonchar has missed the entire season, causing the Pens’ power play to drop from third in the league last season to in the lower-middle of the pack. The power play has been frustratingly inept as Pittsburgh started to slide down the standings. Consider this: a team with Pittsburgh’s talented cast hasn’t scored more than two goals in six games with the only win being a 1-0 shutout.
It’s not just the significant time missed by Gonchar and Ryan Whitney. There’s the frustrating development of Jordan Staal (projected out to 45 points this season), Miroslav Satan’s inconsistent play (especially when compared against Crosby’s chemistry with rent-a-player Marian Hossa last year), and the lack of any real strong scoring threat when Malkin or Crosby hit bumps in the road.
Are the Penguins done this season? No, absolutely not. Recall the 2003-04 Tampa Bay Lightning, a team that hovered around the 8th playoff spot in December and early January before hitting its stride and going on to win the President’s Trophy and the Stanley Cup. The talent is certainly there for a turnaround, but maturity and leadership have to steady the ship through rough waters. It’s moments like these that San Jose GM brought in grizzled veterans like Rob Blake. Pittsburgh jettisoned its older players, so now the onus really is on Crosby and Malkin to pull their team out of this slump.
Is Crosby a good fighter? Uh, no, but that’s ok. All bias aside, I think any hockey fan will take Crosby’s playmaking skills over his “fighting” (re: grabbing a jersey and shaking it wildly).
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