Caps, Preds, and Mutual Disdain for Penguins

Preds Loss is Like Losing All Over Again

The Penguins had a celebration parade today after the Nashville Predators had to suffer through the Pittsburgh Penguins hoisting the Stanley Cup in their own arena. We felt their pain after watching the Washington Capitals lose to the Pens in game seven in our home. People we have talked with said they felt sick after the final round–mostly because there was a sense that the NHL handed the Pens the Cup by overlooking penalties and unfairly penalizing opponent teams.

Maybe its sour grapes here in Washington. Maybe we are jealous of the Pens ability to outplay the Caps. Maybe we want to believe our players are better then the Pens players and we would never stoop to their tactics to win. And maybe we are tired of the Ovechkin-Crosby comparison that the NHL and NBC use to boost ratings and hype a sport that doesn’t bring in the money that football does. 

Simply put, the NHL Playoffs left a nasty taste with almost every hockey fan that isn’t following the Pens. There is no underestimating the physical game that the Pens play. They are brutal on the ice as they move with speed from one end to the other, plowing through anyone in their way. This brutality is frequently called ‘dirty’ by anyone not from Pittsburgh and fair play by anyone who loves the Pens. And you can’t overlook its three primary players: Sidney Crosby, Evegni Malkin and Phil Kessel.

Unfortunately, most of the playoffs focused on Sidney Crosby, in positive and negative terms. His behavior detracted from the skills of Pens’ players and their coach. The NHL loves its Canadian-born player and have elevated him to near sainthood. NBC and its affiliate sportscasters, seem to drool over just the mention of his name. Every game starts with a discussion of his greatness and no matter who else is on the ice, their first shots are always of Sid the Kid skating onto the ice. No other player in the league is more adored by the NHL and NBC, which leaves most of the rest of the hockey fan base a bit nauseous. From what the rest of us hear, Sid can do no wrong and even if he does, well…he is the best don’t ya know?

It seems Crosby, and maybe even the Penguins, have their favorite targeted players. That person who the Pens want to undermine and get out of the game. Crosby personally seems to have a rival or some level of animosity with every team and that was pretty apparent during the playoffs. It includes Brandon Dubinsky, Alex Ovechkin, Erik Karlsson, and PK Subban.

In round one it took the Pens five games to eliminate the Blue Jackets. Brandon Dubinsky has been known to “get under the skin” of Crosby who is known to retaliate or take the first stab but we didn’t see as much of that in this round. Instead, much of the post- round analysis focused more on coaching style and the inability of Sergei Bobrovsky to stop the puck. In the final game of the round, a game-tying goal by the Jackets was waived off and they were instead given a penalty for interference. This caused some ire with CBJ fans as Sidney Crosby would go on and score thus leading the team to a 5-2 finish over Columbus. The playoffs; however, came down to one goalie outstaying the other and one team outplaying the other–in this case it happened to be the Pens.

The Pens went on to face the Capitals in round two. The Pens knocked the Caps out of the playoffs the previous season so revenge was already in the air. We all know how much the Pens dislike Alex Ovechkin and his flamboyant style of play, but in this round the contempt was even more heightened. There was a point when it felt as if the Caps and Pens were back at the Winter Classic when an on-ice collision ultimately led to a concussion diagnosis for Crosby.  This time in a freak play in front of the net, Crosby fell and as Crosby went lower, Nisky’s stick wound up hitting Crosby in the head. Niskanen was given a five-minute major and a game misconduct for the ‘cross check.’ There were reports that Crosby suffered another concussion, his second in the season. Things got pretty nasty with Marc-Andre Fleury taping over former Pens’ Niskanen’s name on his helmet. The names were those that Fleury considered his favorite teammates.  Crosby returned to practice four days later and five days later for game five. Many wondered if he was back too soon or if he had actually suffered a concussion.  People watching were genuinely concerned that it was  and as a result there was a sense from the NHL and NBC that Crosby needed to be treated with kid gloves because of his frail condition. Every time Crosby landed on the ice NBC sports went into crisis mode that he might be injured again.

There were strange calls—like early whistles—against the Caps which gave the impression of favoritism. And let us not forget the infamous Nick Bonino dive which led to a high stick call against TJ Oshie. Even though the refs got it wrong, this time folks like Don Cherry called Bonino out for “faking” and questioned what was going on with the officiating.  The ensuing power play ensured a game four win for the Pens. In the end, the Caps suffered a second round two defeat at the hands of the Pens leaving the fans stunned and bitter. At this point, Caps fans became fans of #anyonebutthePens

Round three and fan hope turned to the Senators. Caps fans were ready for retribution and thought for sure the Sens would bring it. Crosby was in the midst of a scoring drought and the series was overshadowed with continual talk about Crosby’s frail nature. We kept wondering why he was playing if the Pens were really afraid he would be hurt or if this was just a mental game they were playing with the Sens. Erik Karlsson brought some comic relief when he mocked Crosby’s whining at the refs and his incessant whispering on the ice.

Matt Murray found his way back to the net when Fleury was pulled after game two, which changed much of the dynamics to the game as he stopped 123 of 130 shots. The Kessel, Crosby, Malkin threesome was in full force for this round but let’s face it; we were rooting for Craig Anderson to hold them back. He did stop 206 of 220 shots but sadly it wasn’t enough. The Sens fell to the Pens in game seven. Oddly, the NHL reportedly ‘censored’ a video of Karlsson telling Crosby he hoped he was healthy–after all we were all wondering at this point if he was playing injured and if the Pens were ignoring potential concussion symptoms. (YardBarker)

And then everything seemed to shift and become all about Crosby. The Penguins general manager Jim Rutherford complained that Crosby was receiving abuse at the hands of opponents. NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman was forced to address the charges and the allegation that the NHL allowed Crosby to play even though he had a concussion. Bettman pretty much blew it off, but not NBC sports. 

PK Subban became the player to hate by the Pens in the final round. He too is an equally tough, and sometimes considered ‘dirty’ player. He will do what it takes to score, and like Ovechkin, he does it with flare which drives the Pens nuts. In the first game, the Preds held off the Pens from shooting for 37 minutes of play (The Score). Caps fans were pretty excited and impressed and oh so hopeful that this signaled the end of the the Pens run.It was not to be, but it did give us another view of Crosby and the Penguins’ culture.

There were questionable calls that led to the refs calling back goals–which pretty much no one agreed with.

By game five things got pretty disgusting with regards to Crosby and the pass he seemed to have been given. First we had the slamming of Subban’s head into the ice. Any other player would clearly have been ejected and likely been suspended. Not Crosby–he got two minutes:

And then he threw a water bottle on the ice. He claimed it slipped out of his hand and went into his Mr. Innocent act. He got a pass while again, any other player would have received a poor sportsmanship penalty.

In the end, many believe that the playoffs were ruined by the behavior of the NHL’s ‘Golden Boy,” Sidney Crosby. He may well have extraordinary skill but his on-ice attitude leaves much to be desired. He is frequently viewed as a dirty player who gets away with things that would lead to the ejection of other players. He is unapologetic for his own behavior while frequently whining about his own treatment to the refs during the game and pouting after. He feigns innocence and gets away with it. We’re pretty sure every team in the league has some nasty Crosby story. Above all else, Crosby is the reason that no one outside of Pittsburgh is celebrating the Penguins second championship.

Going forward, the NHL really needs to review its officiating and determine how they can ensure more consistency between the regular season and the playoffs. They must do something give the fans the sense that the final round hasn’t been decided as soon as the playoff teams are announced. Clearly the NHL needs a superstar for promotion of the league. Perhaps it is time to find someone of Wayne Gretzky’s caliber who is above suspicion for his play and has the complete respect of the league.

The NHL Network has already decided that the Penguins will be the best team for season 2017/18 and are predicting a third cup in the row for them—with or without Crosby. The worst part of the next year will be that every team will be compared to the Pens and every captain or lead player will be compared to Crosby. And the Caps will constantly face a barrage of questions about playing the Pens and have their two-time loss thrown in their faces. This can go two ways for the Caps—it can demoralize them and beat them down. Or, if folks like Justin Williams and Nick Backstrom have any say in it, call propel them to play harder and develop a winning strategy over the Pens. Either way, it’s gonna be ugly for Caps fans every time we watch those playoff reals, watch Sid lift the cup, and live with the constant reminder that the Pens won the Stanley Cup.

 

 

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