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Kingerski: The Mugging of Sidney Crosby Cannot Continue

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Pittsburgh Penguins Sidney Crosby

If there was a signature moment of the Pittsburgh Penguins need for more hard, physical play within their lineup, the first period against the Buffalo Sabres provided the posterization. Buffalo defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen planted Sidney Crosby, and it did alter the course of the game, even as the Penguins eventually cruised to a 4-0 win.

And don’t think for a moment that the President of Hockey Operations Brian Burke didn’t see it. Burke has already told a few media colleagues to expect some toughness on the way.

Early in the game on Thursday night, Crosby had to fight through some chips and whacks from Buffalo Sabres forwards. Then, defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen leveled Crosby near the left-wing wall like an old high rise.

The Penguins almost had a couple of scoring chances on the shift, but Crosby was not only slow to get up but slow to rejoin the play.

This is where you and I usually part company. There’s something embedded in the Penguins fandom that rejects being able to do that back to opponents as if it won’t help.

“Players are playing the game the way they’re going to play,” Mike Sullivan said. “Teams play against us a certain way my whole tenure here. You have to play through it. That’s just the nature of the game.”

But wouldn’t it be nice not to have to play through it? Not have to endure it? It would benefit the Penguins to instead take the physical game to the other team and make them answer questions about playing through it.

On Wednesday night, it was Buffalo’s Brandon Montour who drew the straw to hit, pound and irritate Crosby.

Now, imagine if the Penguins were able to hit back. Really hit back. We’re not talking about the ability to finish checks at which Brandon Tanev excels, nor are we talking about a goon. In the middle of the extremes, the Pittsburgh Penguins don’t have a guy in their lineup who can devastate the opponent with a hit and make the opponent’s star hurt by the second period.

Crosby had three assists on Thursday night. See, Kingerski, you’re wrong!

“If you look at Ristolainen, he plays a pretty physical game regardless of who’s in the lineup,” Crosby said of his thumping. “He’s a guy you’ve got to be aware of when he’s on the ice. Montour is the same thing. He’s a good skater. He can get there to make hits, so … there’s always guys who are trying to play hard against you, knock you off your game, and make the night long for you.”

Crosby is a poor example of a “star” who needs to be protected because he’s perhaps the strongest superstar since Jaromir Jagr. Maybe stronger. Crosby had enough later in the first period, and he threw a real hip check into Ristolainen, which sent the defenseman arse over tea kettle.

If you watched the game, you also know Sidney Crosby played a little bit differently after the hits, too. Crosby was aware of Ristolainen’s whereabouts.

Hitting doesn’t prevent hitting. But being able to hit back or defend the team does change the hitting.

How do I know?

Ask a hockey player.

Watch the bench after a big hit. The aggressor gains energy like the Mario Bros. chasing mushrooms. The hittee feels aggrieved. Salty.

Which you rather have: the surge of energy or the irritation?

Pittsburgh Penguins — Look Forward

Count PHN and this writer as someone who thinks the Pittsburgh Penguins are MUCH better than we expected, at least when the injury list doesn’t read like a Tolstoy. When fully healthy, the Penguins don’t have a lot of space to add, but they have a few spots.

“We’re going to try to dictate the terms. We’re going to try to play the game that gives the Penguins the best chance to be successful,” Sullivan said in dismissal of the Penguins need to hit back.

But–If the Buffalo Sabres can knock around Sidney Crosby, just imagine what the Boston Bruins or Washington Capitals will do in the playoffs.

Want to know the real secret of having more truculence, toughness, or thump in your lineup? It allows your better players n easier time of playing that game which gives their team the best chance to be successful.

If the Sabres can get at Crosby, a better team will make much better use of that power.

Those playoffs are six weeks away, by the way. The Penguins have a 10-point lead on the Philadelphia Flyers for the final playoff spot. Maybe we should stop worrying about Philadelphia and start watching the New York Rangers, who are also 10 back.

If the Penguins can survive the next few weeks without Evgeni Malkin and Kasperi Kapanen, the playoffs will be all but assured. You can then look at how protecting Crosby, or Malkin, and Guentzel would benefit the team.

One thing is for sure, being able to jam Sidney Crosby can’t continue, or he’ll be watching with Malkin and Kapanen.

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Pittsburgh Hockey Now Editor-in-Chief, formerly 93.7 The Fan, Sportsnet Hockey Tonight, NHL Home Ice. Catch Dan tweeting @theDanKingerski and the official @pghhockeynow account.

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Joe
Joe
6 months ago

Let’s be realistic, the Pens are going to have to change coaches to employ more hitters. Sullivan has shown little inclination to employ guys who are willing to hit on a regular basis.

Stephen Powanda
Stephen Powanda
6 months ago
Reply to  Joe

JR is not his boss anymore Hexy and Burkie are.

Cal
Cal
6 months ago

Absolutely great article Dan. I agree 100%

DiegoPittFan
DiegoPittFan
6 months ago

Exactly who do you think is available to the penguins to solve your problem? Watson?

Rick
Rick
6 months ago

I agree wholeheartedly with you Dan that the Pens need to be far more physical, not goon like, but hitters not hittees. However, when you writer “There’s something embedded in Penguins fandom that rejects being able to do that back to opponents as if it won’t help”, that isn’t exactly accurate. I know a lot of Pens fans that want more jam from this team. The reticence to hit would appear to be coming from within the organization. A couple weeks back, in a pregame interview on ATT Sports, the Penguins Coach was quoted as saying Zach Aston-Reese plays a… Read more »

Larry
Larry
6 months ago

Good article. One objection though, the strongest superstar to play in the modern era is Alex ovechkin and I’m not sure there is a close second. A guy who fights, chips, checks, and outright overpowers opponents on a nightly basis and btw barely ever gets injured through it. Now before I get hate comments I’m not suggesting that he is a superior player by any means but I think it’s worth noting pound for pound superstar ovi is a freight train.

David
David
6 months ago
Reply to  Larry

Ovi is definitely an ox. But because he is the Caps superstar he does not get targeted much, and almost never fights. Plus, the Caps have Wilson.

Katz
Katz
6 months ago

Good column. Could//should have been written when Reaves was traded away. I said then and I’ll say now, I believe they do not lose that 2nd Round series to Washington if Reaves had stayed and they would have gone to the Finals for a 3rd year in a row.

Anyway, I think Angelo could have elevated himself by addressing either Ristolainen or Montour in some physical fashion. Lost opportunity for a young player I like and hope sticks. Sullivan is really a great Coach but has a stubbornness than can be his own worst enemy.

Last edited 6 months ago by Katz
Bob Fowler
Bob Fowler
6 months ago
Reply to  Katz

Stop blaming others for Crosby not being willing to stand up for himself. He isn’t on the ice in a tutu while everyone else wears armor.

Steve
Steve
6 months ago
Reply to  Katz

I was watching for Angello to do something as well. I don’t have the benefit of rewatching games or breaking down film, but I don’t believe Angello and Ristolainen were on the ice at the same time much in the game. I could be wrong, but I was trying to pay attention to that. The Pens have certainly been more physical of late. Even walking the edge. I am still looking for a good explanation on why Tanev’s hit on Tinordi was a major and Holl’s hit on Gaudreau was not. On a side note, anyone else feel like Errey… Read more »

Cal
Cal
6 months ago
Reply to  Steve

I have campaigned for Risto in the past. He would be great in a Pens sweater.

Steve
Steve
6 months ago
Reply to  Cal

I would be cool with that.

Big B
Big B
6 months ago
Reply to  Katz

Sully needs a talk with Burke and if they get a tough guy he will get a talking from Mr. Burke.They need someone not to flatten just Wilson but someone to give the same to the other teams star.Kelly Chase when he was in ST. LOUIS once told the Buffalo Sabres bench that if they did not stop their dirt on Brett Hull he was going to hurt their best player and when they kept at it he slashed Donald Audette so hard he broke his wrist.This team need a Matt Cooke and a tough guy. Jim Malone: He pulls… Read more »

Bob Fowler
Bob Fowler
6 months ago

I can’t find sympathy for Crosby nor the Penguins. Crosby slashed a guys finger off, and NO penalty of any kind? For many years, Crosby instigates then runs, allowing someone else to fight for him. It was fun when Dubinsky just started whipping his butt, before help arrived. Ovi has been just as ‘crushed’ on occasion as Crosby, but Ovi just plays, and eventually hits you back. It should be noted that opponents don’t take the same liberties with Malkin. Maybe Crosby just needs to stand up for himself, and stop trying to be insulated from the game?

Big B
Big B
6 months ago
Reply to  Bob Fowler

Crosby always stands up for himself just as when he dumped Risto arse over tea kettle last night.

Stephen Powanda
Stephen Powanda
6 months ago

I have been pleading for physicality and size for a few years now. We can make room on defense and we can make room on the fourth line PLEASE!

Frank
Frank
6 months ago

I think this discussion dates back to the mid-80’s. As sure as the sun will be up tomorrow at some point during the year a call goes up for the Pens to “toughen up.” No argument from me . . .but . .. at least up until the arrival of the current management team there is ABSOLUTELY no culture in the team that welcomes this type of player. There is no point in hanging this on Sullivan. Everyone should have caught on by now that he wants to win with skill and speed and players will just have to push… Read more »

Joe
Joe
6 months ago
Reply to  Frank

Hextall has shown little proclivity for the tough guy given his drafting history in Philadelphia. Simply put, if the guy is not really good at hockey first and foremost then Sullivan won’t play him.

Lars Erik Nelson
Lars Erik Nelson
6 months ago

Can Zohorna or DeAngelo fight? They are both pretty big. I wouldn’t want smooth shooting Zohorna to hurt his magic hands as he is currently on the same scoring pace as Lemieux, but maybe he can provide some intimidation. The Pens are the 3rd best checking team in the league, so hitting isn’t the issue.

Steve
Steve
6 months ago

My initial impression of watching Zohorna play is that he isn’t a fighter. The more I see Angello, I would say he isn’t either. That’s not the end of the world. I have noticed that when Angello hits, he leaves a mark. I would say he knocks his target on his butt far more often than anyone else in the Pens’ lineup. But he only plays 8 minutes a game and can sometimes get caught, like last night when he kneed Miller (I think) and tripped him. All in all, I think Angello is giving them what he can. I… Read more »

RICK BUKER
RICK BUKER
6 months ago

Angelo can fight a little, although he tends to stop swinging when his opponent starts to punch. For a pretty good reference point, view his fight with Boston’s Trent Frederic on YouTube from March 5, 2020 when both were in the minors. Angello actually started pretty well until Frederic…a tough cookie…took over. This is just my opinion, but I think a valid one. I think Angello’s been instructed not to fight or at least not to retaliate by Sullivan, probably for fear of taking a penalty (heaven forbid). In the game on Wednesday night Ristolainen knocked him down and then… Read more »

Steve
Steve
6 months ago
Reply to  RICK BUKER

I think that’s a good read, and I will look up his fight with Frederic. I don’t honestly care if he can fight if he can consistently plant an opponent in the front row. I also noticed the look on Angello’s face the other night when getting cross checked. I read it as a “what the hell, can’t you take a clean hit” look. I would add that he didn’t look angry to me. And isn’t that kind of what the Pens need a little more of? But that could be nothing. I only saw a bit of the exchange… Read more »

the Other Rick
the Other Rick
6 months ago
Reply to  RICK BUKER

Hey Rick, 100% agree! I was at that game and Ristolainen was taking tons of liberties behind the play as well as the cross-checks on Angello. Why did he keep bullying Penguins? As you note, the best possible explanation is a systemic aversion to push back. It is the same in the real world, bullies, criminals of all sorts target those who won’t push back. I am no for goonery and the mantra of “play through it” that Sullivan expresses every time Penguins get injured from cheap shots can have some value too, depending on the situation. I all becomes… Read more »

Cory
Cory
6 months ago

Hot take garbage

Katz
Katz
6 months ago

Max Jones in Anaheim is going to be a Tom Wilson with more talent. I don’t think Anaheim would give him but would it be possible. If not a very distant Deslaurius would be Ok.

RICK BUKER
RICK BUKER
6 months ago
Reply to  Katz

I’ll gladly take Deslauriers. Tough as nails, and he doesn’t back up an inch. Not that you’d get Wilson-esque production from him, but he did score 10 goals for Montreal a few seasons back and seven last season for Anaheim.

Katz
Katz
6 months ago
Reply to  RICK BUKER

Ya I’d take him too nice to have for a playoff against Washington or Boston.

Last edited 6 months ago by Katz
RICK BUKER
RICK BUKER
6 months ago
Reply to  Katz

Agree.

David
David
6 months ago

Should have kept Ryan Reeves. Just kidding….or am I?

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