Tuesday January 4th, 2011

By Stu Hackel

Fair or not, Sidney Crosby's unfortunate reputation as a whiner won't be fading any time soon after his comments on Monday about this hit to his head by David Steckel of the Capitals during Saturday's Winter Classic game...

...which went unpenalized by the officials and unpunished by the NHL.

"How tall is Steckel?" Crosby asked, as quoted by Josh Yohe in The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. "I find it hard to believe that his shoulder hit me in the accident."

"I didn't even know that I hit him," Steckel had said on Saturday (quoted by Katie Carrera of The Washington Post). "I was coming back with the 3-on-3 and when the puck went the other way I was facing one way and I came back and joined the rush. I didn't even know it was him until I looked back. I haven't even seen the hit yet, obviously it wasn't intentional. I was just trying to get up to the play and he was there when I turned around I guess."

Crosby's teammates also rallied to his defense on Monday. "It was definitely dirty," defenseman Brooks Orpik said. "Sid was just skating by and he definitely wasn't near the puck." But from the video on the CBC feed above, it certainly doesn't seem like Steckel went out of his way to hit Crosby. He may or may not have rammed him intentionally, but Crosby was certainly in Steckel's path as the play went the other way, and to CBC's Craig Simpson, at least, it appeared to be incidental contact and not a hit in which the head was targeted.

What no one recalls is that about three-and-a-half minutes earlier, Crosby slashed the Caps' Matt Hendricks in front of the penalty box and that was also unpenalized. NBC and Sports Illustrated's Pierre McGuire had a perfect view of it from his rinkside position and reported it on the air (McGuire is a strong Crosby supporter), saying to play-by-play man Mike Emrick, "Crosby got away with a slash, Doc....The Washington bench is absolutely apoplectic," which it was, with half of the players jumping up and waving their arms at the referees for the non-call. McGuire stated twice more that Crosby got away with the slash.

Everybody knows that these two teams don't like each other, and rivalries help raise hockey's passion level, making for greater game intensity. But that translates in the real world of the NHL into lots strong stuff going on all over the ice throughout a game. There are hits clean and dirty, stick work and retaliation. It can be a jungle out there. While we're especially not a fan of hits to the head -- and have stated so, repeatedly, for a while -- we're also not fond of hypocrisy.

As we've noted before, Crosby is hardly an innocent on the ice, and that's fine. It doesn't diminish his formidable abilities as a player. But if he's going to whack guys, he's going to get whacked right back. To complain about it is just plain disingenuous.

And while it's clear that a lot of what teams tell the media is for local consumption and designed to rally fans behind the club, it's also irritating when the media join that effort and lose objectivity. Yohe wrote in The Tribune Review today, "For a number of reasons, the hit didn't receive much initial coverage. NBC only showed one replay of the hit and did not make a fuss over it."

That's just not true. NBC showed the hit at the conclusion of the period, followed Crosby during his achy, bent-over path off the ice, and then, after an on-ice interview with Alex Ovechkin, came back to show the grimacing Penguins captain. Emrick noted that Crosby had been staggered, but seemed okay. Then the hit was shown twice more before the start of the third period. McGuire commented that he had spoken with Crosby, who said he was fine, and with Penguins assistant coach Tony Granato about how Crosby was doing. That's a pretty big fuss.

Sure, everyone wants to protect Crosby. He's the Pens' best player, and maybe the game's best player, so it's understandable. But as Gordie Howe said, "Hockey's a man's game," and this Sid the Kid act only goes so far.

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