Crosby concussion casts shadow on Penguins’ Cup repeat bid
With captain Sidney Crosby sidelined indefinitely over the latest in a series of concussions, Pittsburgh’s bid to repeat as National Hockey League champions is off to a rocky start.
Not since the Detroit Red Wings in 1997 and 1998 has a team won the Stanley Cup two seasons in a row. The Penguins, who beat San Jose last June to capture their first Stanley Cup since 2009, rely upon Crosby for leadership and spark alongside talented scorers Evgeni Malkin and Phil Kessel.
“Frustration at this point is a useless emotion,” Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said. “He’s obviously an important player for us, but our team has dealt with injuries in the past to some of our key players. It provides opportunities for others to step up.”
It’s a major step. The 29-year-old center was named Most Valuable Player (MVP) in the World Cup of Hockey after leading Canada to the title just two weeks ago, scoring three goals and setting up seven others.
Last season, Crosby was the Stanley Cup playoffs MVP in claiming his second NHL crown with the Penguins. Pittsburgh was the reigning NHL champion in 2010 when Crosby scored the gold medal-winning goal in the Vancouver Olympic final victory over the United States.
Crosby was hurt by a Friday practice hit, Sullivan said, with team general manager Jim Rutherford saying there was no timetable for Crosby’s return. The NHL season opens Wednesday with St. Louis at Chicago, Los Angeles at San Jose, Calgary at Edmonton and Toronto at Ottawa while the Penguins raise their title banner Thursday in their home opener against Washington, a game that could see some extra tension and emotion.
It was a collision in the 2011 NHL Winter Classic against visiting Washington that left Crosby struggling over two seasons to fully recover. He missed 101 games from that night and the end of the 2011-12 season.
Crosby, with 338 goals and 600 assists in 707 career games, has become the face of the NHL and his absence for even a short time casts a pall over the NHL’s celebration of the 100th anniversary of its founding and the 50th anniversary of its expansion from six to 12 teams, which included adding the Penguins.
“At nearly 100 we have never been stronger, better, younger and never been faster and have never had a brighter, more diverse future,” NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said.
“The great game of hockey, NHL hockey, has grown and strengthened and represents a truly global presence.” There’s still no deal for NHL players to compete at the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics in South Korea although talks continue with the International Olympic Committee, the NHL and the players union involved. Players want to go but the NHL wants to stop paying $15 million for housing, transportation and insurance for NHL personnel.
There will be a fair share of rivals in hot pursuit of the Penguins should they falter with or without Crosby. Washington will contend again behind Russian Alex Ovechkin, the NHL’s top goal scorer each of the past four seasons. He netted 50 last season but the Capitals’ campaign ended with a playoff loss to Pittsburgh.
Tampa Bay, powered by Steven Stamkos, lost last year’s Stanley Cup final to Chicago but have the speed to stay with the Penguins. And Chicago, upset by St. Louis in the first round of last season’s playoffs, is going for a third Stanley Cup in five seasons and fourth in eight campaigns. —AFP