Recently I tweeted that Sidney Crosby’s return on Monday against the New York Islanders was a strategic move that had very little to do with his NHL readiness as compared with a week before or after that magical date of November 21, 2011.
My assumption all along was that Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins agreed that the star center should only really worry about bringing the Stanley Cup back to the Steel City. Based on this assumption, I figured that Crosby’s return was not going to be rushed, since the Pens are cruising and it doesn’t take five months to get ready for the playoffs.
I also figured that the status quo for players coming off serious concussions was that they would be on-again, off-again for some time. This may still prove to be true, but what I saw last night certainly altered my opinion of what the plan is.
What does Gaga really stand for: Germanotta or Goal Assist Goal Assist?
If in fact the Penguins knew that Sid was likely going to miss another game within the next couple of weeks, then it made perfect sense to set their recent quarrel mates (the Isles) up to be the ones who “re-injure” the league’s maltese falcon. If the Pens were (are) planning to have to sit Crosby soon for a game or two for “precautionary reasons,” then why not add a bullet to their chamber by bringing him back against the team that called up a double-A goon last year specifically to try to hurt Pittsburgh’s star players?
The plan made perfect sense to me, and I watched with great anticipation of the Islanders doing what basement dwellers do — play dirty. It was all set up, and I was ready to preach.
But something was missing from the Consol Energy Center last night: the New York Islanders.
Never mind the fact that their once stashed cupboard of goaltenders is now down to the dust and mold; the Islanders didn’t play professional hockey last night. And maybe it’s just the case that they couldn’t. Pittsburgh looked scary. Crosby elevated the games of his linemates, and factored into four of the team’s five goals with a cool GAGA performance. In fact, Sid the Kid is so accustomed to two-goal, two-assist performances that perhaps his nickname should be Man Gaga. Or Kid Gaga… Baby Gaga? Alright, we’re all allowed a few uninspiring attempts, aren’t we?
One key fallacy in my logic is that the aforementioned semi-pro goon, Trevor Gillies, was not on the ice for New York. Gillies has only skated in three games this year for the Isles, and it probably didn’t make sense for the franchise to call him up given the strict scrutiny that it would receive if Gillies so much as glanced at Crosby. But, Matt Martin was in the lineup (as usual) and notched a whopping nine hits. I’m not comparing Martin’s game ethically to Gillies’, I’m just throwing out a disclaimer that at least New York had some hitter in the game. Table favorite Milan Jurcina also skated in the game, although that’s about all he did in his 18:48 of ice time.
To the Islanders’ credit, they did outhit the Penguins 31-12, which is actually a jarring margin. But the hits weren’t hard, and many of them were not on #87. Faceoffs were even at 34, and shots were only 36-29 in favor of the winning home team, but the difference in quality was so apparent it was at least a little worrying for supporters of any team that thinks it’s contending this season.
The good news for the Penguins is that they look fluid, crisp, awesome in all ends and, most surprisingly given the point of the season we’re at, totally locked in.
The good news for every other team is that this was only one game. It was one home game against a pretty bad team that started a goalie with exactly zero prior NHL starts. And all of that excitement and group love may wear off around game 60 or 65, just in time for a third straight playoff disappointment since winning the Cup in 2009. That early-out scenario looked more like a fanatical delusion last night, and the Penguins are already the second favorite to win it all (behind only Chicago) on sportsbook.com at 6-to-1. I suspect those positions will swap sooner than later.
Well done and fair play to Crosby and the Pens, as my cynical assumption surrounding the date and opponent of his return seems to have been proven incorrect. Good to have such a dynamic player back on the ice.