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Rossi: Crosby needs some muscle

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NEW YORK – This is not an excuse for Sidney Crosby, just an observation.

He is getting pulverized by the New York Rangers. When that is not the case, he is getting hooked and held and whatever else passes for ignored obstruction during the Stanley Cup playoffs.

Now, indeed, he must do a better job of fighting through it. One goal in 12 games – and just that many in his last 17 playoff contests dating to last postseason – does not cut it for the player that is viewed almost universally as the best in the word.

Still, Crosby is up against it on the ice.

Perhaps even more galling than the lack of care by officials to enforce actual rules against clutching and grabbing has been the lack of care by Crosby’s teammates to actually do anything to deter opponents from treating him like a human whack-a-mole.

Ah, but these are the Penguins – an organization that went so far in its zest to eliminate head shots three years ago that now general manager Ray Shero has constructed a club essentially devoid of players with, uh, punch.

To be fair, this probably is not something Shero prefers; but ownership – or, at least, ownership’s appointed decision makers – long ago made it clear the Penguins would no longer be the organization with an enforcer.

After all, being at the forefront of trying to change a hockey culture that wants no part of change was much more important than dedicating some cap-space to hired protection for stars such as Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.

Shero once acquired Georges Laraque and Gary Roberts to make the Penguins tough. He twice signed Matt Cooke, both times when Cooke was arguably the most hated – but also, arguably, the most feared – NHL forward. Eric Godard was once a Penguin.

There is no player among these Penguins that resembles any of those players, and Crosby is paying the price for it against the Rangers – as he and Malkin did against the Bruins last postseason.

Presuming Shero is the GM to continue building around Crosby and Malkin, a priority should be to bring in some muscle. If not a strict enforcer, certainly a forward of two that can do some dirty things to deter the dirtier ones being done to the franchise centers the last few postseasons.

Crosby – and Malkin, though less this postseason – are fair game to be criticized for not being better when it counts.

However, they’re far too often fair game in the playoffs, and the Penguins better start doing something about it. That would start with Shero being allowed to bring back the nasty to his team.

If he has not been flat-out told to keep the Penguins clean for the last three years, that desire certainly has been implied by organizational personnel that should not have any influence in hockey operations.

 

>> This team misses Pascal Dupuis, more on the ice than anywhere. That said, given the seeming current emotional state of Crosby, Dupuis is equally missed as a presence. He is the only player with the confidence, clout and cunning to do what might be needed: challenge Crosby to figure out this funk by ribbing him endlessly.

Bill Guerin did that five years ago, busting on Crosby at every chance.

Dupuis is not a carbon copy of Guerin, but he is the glue of this Penguins group. He also can – and more important will – say anything to anybody.

Whether or not injured players can really lead is up for debate, but the Penguins would feel a lot better about themselves – and Crosby would be better, or at least better looking than he has been – if Dupuis was part of the mix.

There is a void in the dressing room, and it is where Dupuis used to get dressed.

 

>> Sure, it is a lovely narrative and all, New York; but the guess here is the Penguins love their mothers, too.

 

>> Mario Lemieux is trying to work his motivational magic again: http://triblive.com/sports/penguins/pensgalleries/6096592-74/crosby-penguins-game#axzz31PXOA4St

 

>> Josh Yohe reports that players were pleased with their “battle level.” Uh, yeah: http://triblive.com/sports/penguins/6096599-74/penguins-game-rangers#axzz31PXOA4St

 

>> Olli Maatta played despite some sickness, and other Game 6 notes: http://triblive.com/sports/penguins/6096597-74/penguins-game-maatta#axzz31PXOA4St

 

>> Whitehall’s John Gibson is having a star turn for Anaheim, by Yohe: http://triblive.com/sports/nhl/6096600-74/gibson-game-ducks#axzz31PXOA4St

 

>> Contributor Denis Gorman finds the Rangers’ vets leading this series charge: http://triblive.com/sports/penguins/6096601-74/rangers-lundqvist-louis

 

>> Columnist Dejan Kovacevic says change must come if the sports world’s worst word – hint: it begins with a “C” – is completed by the Penguins: http://triblive.com/sports/penguins/6082990-74/game-crosby-sunday#axzz31PXOA4St

Be EXCELLENT to each other,

Rossi

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Author: Rob Rossi

Rob Rossi is the lead sports columnist for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. He has been called many names, but “Rossi” is the one to which he most often responds. He joined the Trib in November 2002 and was promoted to the columnist role in July 2014. Previously, he had covered the NHL’s Penguins (2006-14) and MLB’s Pirates (2006), while also working on beats associated with the NFL’s Steelers (2005-06) and the NCAA’s Pitt (2004-06). He has won national and local awards for his coverage of youth concussions and athletes’ charities. Also, he is a member of the Professional Hockey Writers’ Association executive committee and the Pittsburgh chapter chair. Raised in Crafton and Green Tree and a graduate of West Virginia University, he has covered a Super Bowl, All-Star Games in baseball and hockey, the NCAA basketball tournament and over 100 Stanley Cup playoff games, including the Cup Final twice. Oh, and his sports reporting has led him to brief chats with Mick Jagger and Bruce Springsteen; so that’s pretty cool. He is a regular contributor on TV with WPXI, Root Sports Pittsburgh and TSN. Also, he is the authorized biographer of Penguins star Evgeni Malkin.

 
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