Sidney Crosby still believes. He still leads. He still bleeds, figuratively, at times like Wednesday night. However, the Pittsburgh Penguins future Hall of Fame center and team captain will not try to dictate what might happen with the club.
Oh, he has his opinions, but in offering some candid if sad postgame thoughts, he made it clear he will not try to wield whatever power his stardom might give him to influence personnel moves during what could be a tumultuous offseason — one that has suddenly arrived.
After three straight opening-round losses, capped by a 5-3 loss Wednesday that gave the New York Islanders a 4-2 first-round East Division series win, Crosby acknowledged there will be calls for the Penguins to break things up, perhaps rebuild.
That could especially be true given that the Penguins have newer front-office executives in Ron Hextall and Brian Burke.
In particular, Crosby addressed the status of the other two-thirds of the team’s big three – center Evgeni Malkin and defenseman Kris Letang.
“I’ve never been one to try to be GM, and I’m not going to start now,” Crosby said. “I think those guys want to win. I know that we’ve been together a long time. I’ve seen how much they care, their commitment. I don’t ever doubt or question that.
“There’s so many parts, and it is a business. That’s up to other people, but as far as what I can see and how I feel, there’s zero doubt in my mind that the group that we have is a really good group, and we had an opportunity here. That’s why it stings so much.”
The Penguins have won three Stanley Cups since Crosby, 33, Malkin, 34, and Letang, 34, joined the team, most recently in 2017.
Crosby acknowledged that there has been and now certainly will continue to be speculation about and calls for a new Penguins era, and he was asked what he might say to dissuade that.
“Well, they’ve been saying that for four years, right, so I don’t know if I’m going to change anybody’s mind, but I think that we did a lot of good things this year,” he said. “You can look at every year and analyze it differently, but this year I felt like we had a good group and we did a lot of good things. I think we easily could have made a (long playoff) run. I feel pretty confident about this group in saying that, the way that we were trending, the way that we finished the year. But it’s a fine line in the playoffs.
“As far as what I’d say, I really don’t know, but I know that the three of us, we want to win and we’ll do whatever it takes to try to compete to do that every year.”
The Penguins struggled early in this COVID-19 shortened and highly regulated season, leading to questions about whether they would make the postseason for a 15th straight year, but they improved over time and ended up winning the East with a final 10-3 run playing a strong, effective two-way style.
Then came the Islanders, and it was all over.
“It’s disappointment,” Crosby said. “It’s not guaranteed to make the playoffs. We’ve been fortunate that we’ve been there a lot. Every time you get to play in the playoffs, it’s an opportunity. It really is the best time of the year. You want to be in it. You want to play for a long time. And you want to compete for the Stanley Cup.
“It’s never a good feeling when you lose, but I think … with the way that we played leading into the playoffs, we felt good about our group. We thought that we could make a good run. For it to come to a halt here is disappointing.
“This is probably the ultimate learning experience, going through this. It’s tough to lose in the playoffs. It’s tough to get here. So, like I said, this one stings.”
Crosby, ever the leader, also made sure he took some public responsibility. After leading the Penguins during the regular season with 24 goals and 62 points in 55 games, he was held to one goal and one point in the six games against the Islanders, no points in Wednesday’s deciding loss.
Asked what went wrong during the series, Crosby did not bring up the much-maligned goaltending of Tristan Jarry or the outstanding goaltending of New York rookie Ilya Sorokin. He made sure to point a finger at himself.
“I don’t know if it’s one thing,” Crosby said. “I thought we got better as the series went on. I think you look at two overtime games that we lost, being able to win one of those would have been huge. But I think we did a lot of good things and the last couple games I thought we played really well. Some big mistakes, obviously, (Wednesday night). I miss a guy on a couple chances that end up in the back of the net. Just a play here or there was really the difference. I’ve got to come up with that on either side of the puck.
“I feel like I didn’t made a big play, whether it’s overtime or adding to a lead when we were up … look at some chances that I had, those kinds of things, those are so important. You can’t overlook the importance of those.”