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Interference on Crosby?

Two major topics came out of Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final on Monday. The first was the fact the Penguins went 37 minutes without a shot on goal. The second was, as always, the officiating.

On top of a disallowed Nashville goal from an offside review, there was also a 5 on 3 power play awarded to Pittsburgh when two penalties were assessed to the Predators at the same time.

What irked a lot of people was not what they called, but what they didn’t call. Welcome to another episode of Sidney Crosby got away with one.

On that same five on three power-play, Crosby gave Matthias Ekholm a bump beside the net in an effort to stop him from getting to the puck. Ekholm went down, and cries for an interference penalty went up.

To all you non-Penguins fans, I really do see what you’re saying here. I can see how it looks like interference. Plus you all may want it to be interference even more because it’s Sidney Crosby.

On the flip side, you’ll probably not read this with an open mind because you already think I’m defending it only because it’s Sidney Crosby.

So instead of boring you with the details of the play, I’m going to ask you to answer one question:

Was Sidney Crosby eligible to be hit?

That’s right. I’m referring to Crosby, not Ekholm. Crosby touched the puck, and it was momentarily in his skates. He had “possession” just prior to the contact. If he was still eligible to receive contact, then he was allowed to engage in a puck battle to defend his already established position.

I’m not saying this as a boom! Gotcha! type of point. I’m just trying to get people to look at it from a point of view other than seeing some guy innocently going for a puck and having another guy stick his butt out and knock him over.

To me, that’s not what happened. I saw a guy who just had the puck and was putting himself in the best possible position to win it back again.

Sidney Crosby: The Dirtiest Player in the Game

Tuesday night in Buffalo Sidney Crosby cup checked Ryan O’Reilly and Sabres fans went nuts (no pun intended). Later on, in the same game, while muffing a shot into the yawning cage, 87 took a high stick to the mouth from Evander Kane. Sabres fans once again, much like Crosby’s teeth, were losing it. “Embellishment!” they cried. “Diving!” they screamed. Let us put all of this on the backburner for a moment.

Thursday night comes around and the Penguins are in The Truth North’s capital, Ottawa. Senators’ defenseman Marc Methot was rushing the puck up ice, and Crosby reached in and slashed Methot. The result of the slash on his hand, we’ll call it a “broken” finger. Because realistically, I don’t know if explosion is really a medical term to describe Methot’s finger. This time the Crosby haters come out of the woodwork or crawl out of whatever rock they usually live under, in exceptional form. “Crosby’s a scumbag” I read. “Crosby is the dirtiest player in the league” someone said. “Someone should rip his head off for that dirty play” was stated. “The league protects Crosby, he gets away with everything” was very popular. Even the Senators owner chimed in saying that “Crosby should get a 10-game suspension.”

So, let’s get to the nuts and bolts of all of this and truly explain how this game works for all the keyboard warriors, couch coaches, armchair GM’s, and wannabe referees that don’t know a blue line from a clothes line. As I have stated numerous times in the past, all great players make dirty plays. Even the Great One has crossed checked a guy in the wrists and hit a guy from behind. Le Magnifique without a doubt has dished out the occasional cheap shot. The Great 8 has laid some lumber in his time. Even one of the game’s most magical puck handlers and also a Lady Byng winner on multiple occasions, Pavel Datsyuk, most recently laid a questionable late hit on a guy and run someone from behind in his Red Wings days (https://youtu.be/lJAYEtsgrTY ). However, most of this kind of play has gone unseen up until just recently. Why? Because before modern technology and the brilliance of marketing teams, hockey was viewed on TV much like Clerks the movie was made, a real one shady camera set up. Now hockey has just about every angled covered on the ice. Some broadcasts have even had cameras specifically tuned in on certain players when they are on the ice. To give the fans a great “experience” watching hockey, we get to see something happen in super slo-mo from multiple different angles on repeat. If something happens on the ice, someone, somewhere has a video of it. Nothing goes undocumented. This is great for fans, but for players, they have a hard time getting away with a little rough play without getting scrutinized under the all-seeing eye. Even more so for someone like Crosby.

Which brings me to my next point. The Penguins captain has been on a career path since he was 8 years old. Since then, he’s been better than everyone else on the ice. His peers have said it in every league and on every team, he’s ever played on. This isn’t just a Crosby fan rant, these are the facts. Every owner, GM, and coach in the league would sell their soul to the Devil to have 87 on their team. So, with that being said, Mr./Ms. keyboard warrior, I hear you are the best dang server the Olive Garden has ever had. The top brass at the OG love you! You’re selling glasses of wine left and right, add-on’s galore, and appetizers to every table. You are so good they are going to put you in their commercials. So now a camera is following you around all day while you are doing your job. That camera catches you putting extra bread sticks in a table’s basket or you forget that they ordered a Diet Coke and you bring them regular Coke instead. Oh no! You are now the worst Olive Garden server ever and now the millions of people on twitter get to criticize you for days. They will whine and complain about what a horrible person you are and how you should be burned at the stake for your actions. Welcome to the world of Sidney Crosby and many other professional athletes like him. When players are so good they become very closely watched by everyone who loves that sport, sometimes even more so by those who dislike the athlete just so they have something negative to say about them. It happened to Gretzky. It happened to Lemieux. It happened to Howe. It still happens to Jagr. People will always hate the king until the king gives them money or dies. If 87 was traded to Philadelphia tomorrow, I guarantee that he would never be booed in that city again. And if he took them to the Stanley Cup Finals they would immediately put a Crosby statue in place of the Balboa one. The fact is, all eyes are on Sidney Crosby because he’s the best in the world. And again, that’s not just a fan talking, this has been stated by many other NHL players, coaches, and GM’s around the league.

But hey, let’s get into the x’s and o’s of the matters at hand. The game is played hard. It is not a game for the weak. And in the NHL, in order to be effective, a player cannot be a box of Charmin on the shelf. Crosby is a tough customer who battles for every inch and he competes hard night in and night out. Everyone says that about him. He’s also a player who must battle through a lot of stick work, holds, and other illegal plays every shift in order to be successful at his job. Imagine every day while you sit at your little cubicle doing the paperwork for someone’s mortgage, your office competition comes over and pulls your chair out from underneath you. Now, think of that happening every time you went to sit at your desk. I’d like to think you’d retaliate eventually, right? Was the cup check on O’Reilly uncalled for? Yes! Have many players (including myself) performed a similar play? Absolutely! Should it have been a penalty? Sure! Why wasn’t it? That’s a whole other topic for another day. Did Crosby most likely try to poke him in the back of the leg and miss and accidentally get him in the marbles? That’s more likely the scenario. If it was vicious, Crosby wouldn’t not have apologized to O’Reilly. And if O’Reilly thought it was malicious he certainly would have done something about it. Instead he was quoted as saying, “He’s a good guy, he’s just playing hard…it happens.” See, if the violated player is ok with it, fans need to let it go.

Finally, the slash on Methot believe it or not was a hockey play. As others have already said, this same exact play happens 50-60 times a game. Players are taught to be hard sticks. This is how the game is played. Even Methot’s teammate Erik Karlsson said, “[Crosby] puts his stick in as [Methot] is trying to shoot the puck in and unfortunately it hits his finger,” Karlsson said. “It turns out worse than most other times, plays like that happen all the time, but I don’t think it was intentional or dirty.” But as you read earlier in this piece Senators owner had a different take. Funny enough though, I retweeted tonight, something posted by an NHL analyst. It was a compilation video of Methot making the exact same time of play on other players throughout the years (https://twitter.com/mike_p_johnson/status/845454086984077312 ) Should 87 have been called for a penalty? Sure. If he hits the stick and it breaks, it’s an automatic call. Unfortunately, Crosby got him on the finger. And where he got hit on the finger, literally has no protection. That portion of hockey gloves is just a little piece of palm leather and no padding what so ever. Was it worthy of the Department of Player Safety reviewing it? Hell no! This was the Pens captain making a hockey play and accidently hitting more hand than stick. This wasn’t Adam Graves trying to chop of Mario’s arm in the ’92 playoffs (https://youtu.be/VwgAV2djXXg). So, let’s not make it out to be something more than what it was, a routine play at ended poorly. This is hockey folks, not tennis. It’s violent game.

Good talk! See ya out there!

Sestito Hit Has Multiple Problems

Tom Sestito found himself in the Penguins lineup Wednesday night to help protect Evgeni Malkin from potential vengeance on behalf of the Winnipeg Jets after his illegal and unpunished high hit to the head of Blake Wheeler the last time these two teams squared off. Sestito now may find himself suspended.

In just 13 minutes of game time Big Tom involved himself so much that after the game many were questioning whether Pittsburgh should have even bothered to waste a roster spot calling him up.

He fought forward Chris Thorburn early in the first period, and followed that up with the hit that earned him a hearing with the NHL’s Department of Player Safety. He received a five minute major and game misconduct for this hit from behind to Winnipeg defenceman Toby Enstrom:


Video: SPORTSNETCANADA

I’ve got two problems with this hit. Enstrom clearly sees Sestito. He 100% looks right at him while skating back to the puck. He sees him coming and still decides to casually turn instead of really trying to explode. He’s not making an evasive move. He’s flat out turning his back to an oncoming attacker. Turning around and standing there like a sitting duck is not the best option, especially when it’s a guy like Sestito.
Having said all that, I don’t blame Enstrom for the type of hit. Yes he turned, but I can see him shielding the puck and trying to win a battle. If Tom comes in with full control, it’s a standard issue pin to the boards and no one questions Enstrom at all.

Sestito has to think puck first here. He has the right to hit and Enstrom is eligible, but he has to come in with hands down, stick down, and at the very least guide Enstrom in. A smart player would see the situation.

Enstrom is a left shot, so any play he makes up the boards would automatically turn his back toward Tom. It’s the natural mechanics of the motion. For the big man to come in with hands and stick up like that is reckless by itself. It’s not a penalty, but it shows he had no intention of trying to win the puck. He was looking to hit regardless of what Enstrom did, so this is still all on Sestito to control the type of hit.

What makes this suspension worthy to me, along with the lack of thought entering the situation, is that Sestito makes no effort to let up on the hit even after it was clear disaster. He actually pushes into the hit even more at impact. Whether he meant to or not, whether it was preventable or not at the moment Enstrom turned his back, is irrelevant. It was preventable by his approach in entering the situation to begin with.

You see guys like Zetterberg, Tavares, Tarasenko, or Crosby who are impossibly strong on the puck and good at takeaways. That’s their focus. Then you have guys like Oshie, Draisaitl, and Johansen who are more apt to take the body, but are still on the lookout in case the puck becomes available.

That’s the way guys like Sestito need to play. They have to remember they’re still in a hockey game. I know that’s not what he’s there for, and there’s the problem. In the moments when his services are needed, he should do what he has to do. I get that. But you have to be able to turn it off too. If he’s not there to use proper hockey technique the majority of the time, he shouldn’t be playing hockey.