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.