CRANBERRY TOWNSHIP, Pa. — A few Penguins players still had their playoff beards Wednesday when they gathered their hockey gear and met with team management and with reporters before scattering for the offseason.
Not Sidney Crosby. The team captain is a creature of habit and a champion of tradition and superstition, so of course he was fresh-faced – if not overly jovial or full of fresh thoughts.
Something, maybe a couple of things, had him just a bit more subdued than usual.
Crosby made it clear that even after winning two Stanley Cups in as many years – plus a 2016 World Cup of Hockey championship with Canada – losing in the second round to Washington this postseason carries as much negative weight as any playoff loss.
“I don’t think it sets in completely yet,” he said. “It’s something we haven’t felt for a while. It doesn’t make it any easier, I can tell you that. You want to be playing still.”
Completely understandable, but maybe the obvious silver lining is monumental.
Crosby isn’t extending his season by rushing off to Denmark to join Team Canada at the IIHF world championships. He loves playing for Canada, and politics beyond his control kept him out of the 2018 Olympics. Asked to confirm his decision not to go to worlds, he said simply and bluntly, “I won’t be going over there.”
The unspoken explanation is that, as long as there won’t be a third straight Stanley Cup, Crosby needs the downtime that comes with a longer offseason. That might be crucial if there are to be more Cup moments in his and the Penguins’ fairly near future.
Crosby couldn’t dispute that.
“You have to make the most of it,” he said. “You don’t want to have long summers, but when you do get them you have to make sure that you make the most of them, especially after the amount of games we’ve played the last few years. To be able to get a summer in to train and feel healthy, that’s important.”
Asked the question all the players faced, whether he was dealing with any hidden injuries that needed to heal, Crosby denied anything significant.
“Couple things. Nothing too serious,” he said. “Just stuff (from) wear and tear over seasons and that amount of games. Pretty normal. Nothing that stands out right now.”
Not overwhelmingly comforting to Penguins fans, but how could Crosby not have a couple of nagging little health issues? Since the start of the 2015-16 season, he has played 303 games between the Penguins and Team Canada, regular season and playoffs, including all 82 regular-season games this season. That’s a lot.
Crosby has prospered during that time, with the two Cups and a World Cup of Hockey gold medal. He has a combined 135 goals, 342 points – more than a point a game – during that stretch.
He would have gladly pushed himself physically to advance in the playoffs, and he would have done all he could with another short summer if that’s how things worked out. His evaluation is that he and his teammates did a good job of that last year.
“I think everyone’s in good shape, and you prepare to play a long time,” Crosby said. “Obviously, there’s wear and tear that comes along with that, but I don’t think it’s something that anybody would complain about or say that that’s something that affected us over time. I think that we handled it well. We were in good shape.”
But – that silver lining – they can be in great shape and rested for training camp with the extra month off. And that’s not even taking into consideration the emotional toll of nine straight playoff series before the loss to the Capitals.
Crosby, who turns 31 in August but still seems fully capable of playing at a world-class level, agreed with the notion that the window for championships is not closed for the Penguins.
“It’s really good,” he said, “It’s nice that for the most part there’s probably not going to be a lot of change. For any team, that’s always a big challenge, especially when you’ve had success and there’s possible movement with guys, That’s something we can look to as a real positive here. And the fact that everyone went through this experience together as a group, we’ll be motivated for next year.”