As the first week of Sidney Crosby’s comeback drew to a close, the Penguins captain found himself talking about hits to the head.
But Crosby wasn’t talking about the hits last January from David Steckel, then of the Washington Capitals, or Victor Hedman of the Tampa Bay Lightning that put him out of commission for 10-plus months with concussion symptoms. Instead, following Friday’s 6-3 win over the Ottawa Senators, Crosby found himself defending his own elbow to the head of the Senators’ Nick Foligno. The incident occurred in a scrum in the Penguins’ crease after Foligno fell over Penguins goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury.
“It’s not a big deal, but it is something that he preached all summer about, that we should limit that, and then he goes and does it,” Foligno said. “So I was just a little disappointed.”
To the Penguins, however, Crosby was simply demonstrating leadership in standing up for a teammate who had seen an opponent get too close for comfort more than once in the contest.
“A couple times, he fell, I guess; that’s what he says,” Fleury said. “Sid stood up for me there; that was nice. It’s nice to have your teammates backing you up.”
Head coach Dan Bylsma was more blunt in his assessment.
“We’re talking about a player that bumped into our goalie three times. With the score 5-1 and intentionally going into our goalie, he can expect more than Sidney Crosby coming at him and talking to him during the game. That’s how we feel about those situations. He was in our net, falling over our goalie, and I don’t think there was any question about the intent.”
The following night, ironically, it was a hit to the head by another player who was on the receiving end of a doozy last season that gave Crosby another opportunity to speak out. Saturday at the Bell Centre, Montreal’s Max Pacioretty – who sustained a broken neck and a concussion on a hit from Boston’s Zdeno Chara last March – delivered a high, open-ice hit to Pittsburgh’s Kris Letang late in the third period that dropped the blueliner to the ice with a bloody face.
“I was preaching about hits like the one we saw here tonight, not a scrum,” Crosby said in response to Foligno’s comments. “[Wednesday versus St. Louis], I go into a scrum and I get punched in the head. I accept that; I’m going into a scrum and that’s part of playing the game. If he’s going to run a goalie, he’s got to expect that guys are going to get their hands in his face. That’s totally different than putting an elbow in a guy’s face coming across the middle. They’re totally different circumstances.”
Although there was no penalty on Pacioretty’s play – “I was surprised,” Bylsma said – the Habs winger is scheduled for a supplemental disciplinary hearing via phone Monday with Brendan Shanahan, NHL Senior VP of Player Safety. Pacioretty sought out Letang prior to overtime to apologize, and expressed regret following the contest in comments to The Globe and Mail.
“I’ve been down that road; it’s a terrible feeling,” Pacioretty said. “He’s coming across the middle; unfortunately, his head is down. I feel terrible about what happened. I didn’t see the replays, so I don’t know what the league will think of it. But, if I let him take that shot, it could be in the back of our net. It’s a tough decision for me; I thought I tried to keep it within the rules. I know [the Penguins] are probably going to want something to be done.”
Letang, for his part, went through the standard concussion testing protocol, had a pin put in his broken nose, then came back to score the overtime game-winner on a controversial play after Canadiens netminder Carey Price felt he had the puck frozen and play should have been stopped. Replays seemed to support Price’s feeling that the Penguins had gotten a lucky break – albeit one Pittsburgh had positioned itself for by battling back from a 3-1 deficit and two disallowed goals.
“It’s not an easy team to come back [on]; they play a good defensive game,” said center Jordan Staal, who tied the contest at 3-3 late in the third period. “And, obviously, Tanger coming back after a hit like that shows his character.”
“It made for a good story, him coming back after the hit and scoring the goal,” Bylsma said. “I think there was a lot in that game, some no-goals that we didn’t get, but the resiliency … having to kill some penalties in the third period, to be able to stay focused enough and come back, and then Kris Letang coming back and scoring in overtime to get the win.”
Controversy and theatrics aside, the 4-3 overtime win in Montreal capped a very good week for Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins – one in which the team earned seven of eight possible points and its captain averaged two points per game (2G, 6A) and played four games in six nights with no return of symptoms.
“He was dynamic on the power play, winning battles,” Bylsma said. “A lot of that game, whether he ends up on the scoresheet or not, was some pretty incredible hockey.”