Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Saving Private Crosby

It would seem that young Sidney is getting a little tired of being the designated hittee. In two games against Montreal in the last week, Crosby found himself frequently laid out on the ice, the victim in his eyes of flagrant assaults by the bullies of the Bleu, Rouge et Blanc.

For the Habs and their fans, it was more a case of young Sid playing the seal on the ice, flopping around anytime a stray elbow, hip, shoulder or stick might come his way. In fact, Sunday in Montreal saw Sid the Kid the target of the catcalls normally associated with the current resident of the doghouse on the Canadiens side of the ice.

So saddened was Crosby by the reception that he pointed out that he at one time was a great fan of the Habs, but now perhaps that wasn’t so anymore. Strike Montreal from any free agency aspirations in a few years we guess.

A more immediate concern for the Penguins however is the need to make a decision about their most valuable asset today. While he may seem to go down a fair amount, there is no mistake that teams are taking liberties with the league’s leading scorer at the moment. He is receiving a fair amount of attention and more than one scrum this year has seen him planted on his backside on the ice, with few in Penguins uniforms offering up as much as a “hey don’t do that.”

Part of the onus is on Crosby to fight a few of his own battles, much like those in the far past had to, the Howe’s, Hull’s, Orr’s and Richards were never shy in seeking their own payback. But they also had compatriots willing to step in and keep the opposition honest from time to time.

Wayne Gretzky of course rarely had to worry about the need to drop the gloves; Glen Sather was more than willing to make sure that the word got out to keep a distance, usually delivered by a Marty McSorley or a Dave Semenko. Now that was a different NHL we grant you, one in which the policeman or bodyguard had a role.

In the new NHL, they are a burden to a line up it seems, apparently because the officials are cracking down on infractions. A crack down that Crosby probably figures hasn’t involved many Penguin games this year (though Sunday's game with the march of Habs to the penalty box would dictate otherwise) . Crosby however, very well may have a point, officiating to this point has been a tad inconsistent, one night it’s a hard hitting affair the next night it’s almost like a game of no contact house league hockey. As the schedule turn comes for the playoff stretch it appears that the more physical brand is on the rise, one which will see space to skate decreased and more of the stars crunched.

So, if the Pens wish to keep their young franchise player on skates for the rest of the season and maybe even the playoffs, they may want to look back to a less gentle time and find someone to ride shotgun on the Crosby express.

Two weeks ago the rumour was that the Pens were chatting with the Sens, inquiring as to the services of Brian McGrattan. A player who would certainly create some space for Crosby and perhaps keep a few liberties from being taken. He may yet be available, with the return of Mike Fisher and Bryan Murray's thoughts on the need for toughness towards the playoffs. But, he makes a pretty good insurance policy what with an Alfredsson, a Heatley and a Spezza as high value targets of their own.

One possible solution, Sean Avery was gobbled up by the Rangers today. He might have been a pretty good choice to keep an eye out for the Kid, and as for heating up that now boiling Montreal rivalry he would have been a natural (all be it controversial natural). Instead, he’ll be bulking up the Rangers line up for the playoff stretch run.

Pittsburgh has been in this territory before; in fact they need look no further than the owner’s box for advice. Mario Lemieux spent many a night taking the whacks, the hits and the catcalls from the opposition. Like Crosby for the most part he was left to deal with the troubles on his own, maybe he should whisper a few suggestions to Ray Shero down the food chain and find some back up for his household tennant and the new face of the franchise.

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