Sidney Crosby's decision to knock Jakub Voracek's glove away in order to bait Claude Giroux into a fight that Giroux probably wished had been broken up sooner was dumb. But it wasn't dumb because it was "classless," terrible leadership, or some sort of horrible affront to the sport. It was dumb only because it didn't work.
Outside of the first period of Game 1, the Pens have been completely and totally dominated by Philadelphia. Every time the Pens score, Philadelphia scores. Every time Philadelphia gets a power play, they score. Every time the Pens get a power play, Philadelphia scores. Every time Paul Martin has the puck, Philadelphia scores. For 8 periods, plus a short overtime, it's been a total mismatch.
So Crosby, the Pens captain and best player, decided to try to do something to change that. And he did something that very few people of his stature in the game (to say nothing of his concussion issues) would have done -- he picked a fight. The guy he picked a fight with didn't want to fight so Sid had to instigate. And to instigate the fight, he did something that harmed no one, was kind of funny and actually worked to instigate the fight -- he knocked Voracek's glove away. In a league where TV analysts rip coaches for not fighting each other, we can't pretend to be offended by knocking a glove away.
|No! Not the glove!|
Perhaps the biggest compliment that Sid has been given throughout his career is that he's a world-class talent with the mentality of a grinder. He battles for pucks, he's the strongest player in the league on the boards, and he mixes it up after the whistle. He's not a dainty player who is afraid to do his own dirty work. So we can't and shouldn't act surprised that a guy who has been described by supporters as "fiercely competitive" and by his detractors as a "cheap shot artist" lost his cool and decided to do what almost 100% of NHL players have done in their career: pick a fight. The NHL playoffs are as intense of a sporting stage as you can get anywhere in the world. It's insane on the ice, or as it is now called, it's Kris Letang on the ice. You can't half-step it. You have to be completely invested in the moment and sometimes when you do that, your emotions get the best of you.
One way to look at Games 2 and 3 is to view them as an indictment of Sid's leadership ability and say that this confirms that he is not Wayne Gretzky or he's not Steve Yzerman. And you'd be right about part of that -- he's not Wayne Gretzky and he's not Steve Yzerman, because Sid will fight his own battles. Gretzky, Yzerman, and an infinite number of other revered captains in NHL history sent bigger, meaner, and more dangerous guys -- men like Dave Semenko and Bob Probert -- to do their dirty work for them. Is that better "leadership" by captains?
It's easy for us to watch the games and say that Sid should skate away. But for better or for worse -- and it's almost always for better -- that's not how he is wired. We thought the concussion might change him, or that maturity would morph him into some stoic Lady Byng-contending captain. But you can't change a person's fundamental nature. The truth is that Sid is kind of crazy. And that's a good thing.
|Also a pretty decent fighter.|
Crosby can't "lead" individual people out of how poorly they're playing right now. He can't lead Marc-Andre Fleury to be competent. He can't lead Dan Bylsma make a single tactical adjustment. He can't lead Kris Letang to stop acting like a defendant trying to convince a jury that he's mentally incompetent to stand trial. And not even Mike Richards in his prime could lead Paul Martin to play defense.
|Just under 2 million hits for "paul martin goal philadelphia" Google image search.|
So this is not something that should cause Penguins fans to think of Sid as a punk or a terrible leader or question whether Flyers and Rangers fans have been right all along. It's fair game to criticize him for making a dumb decision or losing his composure momentarily but all that makes him is a flawed captain. Who isn't? I'm glad he's not scared, I'm glad he doesn't care what people think of him, and I'm glad he's not the robotic groomed-from-birth-torch-bearer of the sport that he has been at points in his career.
During the last seven years, there has been one place that has hated Crosby more passionately and more fervently than any other city, and it's not even close -- Philadelphia. One hundred percent of this venom is traceable to envy and jealousy, and any claim that it's somehow about the way he plays is cloaked in a thick coat of hypocrisy given the source. And for the vast majority of those seven years, Sid has completely owned Philadelphia. He's led his team to 2 playoff series wins, an 8-0 season series sweep in 2006-07, and more big goals and moments than we can remember.
On Sunday, Sid snapped.
I'm not surprised that it happened. I'm surprised it took so long.
The guy takes untold amounts of abuse on the ice (he definitely dishes out his fair share as well). Every single thing he does on the ice is dissected like the Zimmerman-police station video. He's held to a supremely high standard of being the face of the NHL while opposing players, coaches, and everyone from every TV network that works with the league call him every name in the book. He's despised in almost every city he plays in despite, for the most part, being guilty of nothing more than being a great player. For seven years the league has tried every tactic in the book to get inside Crosby's head. That he's maintained this level of composure for this long is no small feat.
But on Sunday, after seven years of Crosby Sucks chants, face-washes and sticks to the face, the Flyers finally got inside Crosby's head. Enjoy it while it lasts, Philly. Because it probably won't.