The Pittsburgh Penguins are one loss away from elimination in the Eastern Conference Final. They’re also two wins away from making the Stanley Cup Final, but that level of optimism and appreciation of their accomplishments is soooooo very Game 3.
As a result, captain Sidney Crosby is getting called out for the team’s lack of success and his own struggles, having turned in a poor effort in Game 5 against the Tampa Bay Lightning. That’s three games after Crosby’s overtime game-winner earned accolades from media and his teammates, but again, that’s sooooo very Game 2.
We’ve decided to spotlight three sizzling hot takes on Crosby and the Penguins’ star players that were published in the wake of their Game 5 loss to the Lightning. There were no doubt more of them, but these three actually singed our eyelashes as we read them because the takes were so hot.
I hate this subject matter. I’m sick and tired of it, truth be told. It’s become talk-show tripe and social-media spam, bashing the team’s stars — particularly Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin — every time the team sputters. Especially since the data illustrates that they’re the NHL’s top active playoff scorers at 1.129 points per game and 1.060, respectively.
But right now, I don’t care.
… The captain, since his overtime goal in Game 2 that marked his first shooting success since the first round, hasn’t produced a solitary point in the past two. Worse still, he’s registered four total shots, a minus-3 rating and, in general, has barely been visible.
Malkin was only marginally better, and that’s no praise. He assisted on Kunitz’s go-ahead goal late in the second, whirling a shot to the net after a puck basically drifted his way. But that would represent half his shot total, and he contributed next to nothing otherwise.
In Summary: The supporting cast, including Phil Kessel, are doing their jobs but the Big Names on the Penguins aren’t doing Big Things in Big Spots, which is what separates your Sidney Crosbys from your Ben Roethlisbergers.
Crosby Hot Take Rating: When you microwave a slice of pizza and then the cheese and the crust both become scalding and you just stand there and let it fall back out of your mouth after you’ve attempted to take a bite because the roof of said mouth is blistering.
What was Crosby's excuse? What will be the reason Crosby couldn't get the Penguins back to the Cup Final this time?
If the Penguins don't rally to play for the Cup for the first time since winning it in 2009, somebody somewhere — in Pittsburgh, and if not, certainly in his native Canada — is going to absolve Crosby of responsibility for the loss.
Somebody always does.
The argument will probably be that Crosby scored winning goals in Games 2 and 3 against the Lightning.
Where was he in Game 5?
In Summary: The Penguins stars ran and hid after Game 5, Crosby will escape criticism from his Canadian enablers, and maybe it’s time one of the Big Four is traded if the Penguins only finish two wins away from the Stanley Cup Final.
Crosby Hot Take Rating: Ghost pepper extract mixed with the blood of an HR Giger xenomorph.
And finally – and really, folks, strap yourselves in – Sporting News college basketball columnist and member of the U.S. Basketball Writers Hall of Fame Mike DeCourcy with his opus, “Sidney Crosby's captaincy has a cost the Penguins simply cannot afford to pay”:
It is not uncommon in sports for character to be mistaken as leadership. It is apparent Crosby has the respect of his teammates. It is equally clear the Penguins do not fear letting down their captain. That is more consequential. Whether that fear comes from the implied threat of physicality or simply a respect level that does not permit anything but exceptional effort, championship teams almost invariably have such a player — or players — in charge. If Crosby was going to be the nominal captain, the Penguins needed to supplement him with the sort of player who could back him up.
But wait, there’s more.
If they should lose Tuesday or Thursday, it will mark the sixth time in seven seasons they have fallen to a lower-seeded team in the Stanley Cup playoffs. Their roster has been tweaked, overhauled, finessed and rebuilt by two general managers, but no one has come to grips with the notion that the team’s central figures are vastly more comfortable being star players than locker room leaders.
But wait, there’s more.
It may seem a bit rough to blame Crosby for Letang’s annual spring freakouts, but there’s no way this would continue on a team with actual leadership. And Letang has not been the only problem. And Crosby isn’t really to blame for this, anyway. His captaincy began as an artifice, and that he hasn’t grown into it is a matter of personality not personal failure.
But wait, there’s more.
For all the many heists general manager Jim Rutherford staged in retooling the Penguins into the fast force that only last week seemed to be speeding toward another appearance in the finals, what he and his bosses never seemed to grasp is that the one element missing from their roster was someone whose presence would inspire the players to at least reach their vast potential, if not exceed it in the way the Lightning are now.
In Summary: Guy who’s not in Penguins locker room says captain who wore the ‘C’ for two conference championships and a Stanley Cup has never grown into the role, and is also too busy to hand-hold Kris Letang, whose postseason meltdowns are clearly Crosby’s fault as are most of every other failure the Penguins have had in the playoffs; because while Crosby’s production has been admirable, his nebulous, ill-defined “leadership” qualities don’t have some sort of nebulous, ill-defined “consequences” for when his teammates let him down. Perhaps he should carry a barbed-wire baseball bat named “Lucille” so Kris Letang doesn’t go minus-4 in Game 5 again.
Crosby Hot Take Rating: Think of an active volcano on the surface of Mercury. This is three million times hotter than that.
But there’s a chasm between being disappointed with your star players and, like, suggesting Crosby be stripped of the captaincy or that Pittsburgh needs to consider blowing up the core. We’ve seen what happens when the Penguins overreact to their own lofty expectations. He’s back in Portland now.
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