It’s been a while since we’ve seen Sidney Crosby lying on the ice like that, but it was immediately and frighteningly familiar. Crosby famously lost a year of his prime to concussions, so it feels like too much to hope for that we’ll get to see him again over the final month of the postseason.
Penguins coach Mike Sullivan had no update on Crosby after the Capitals’ 3-2 overtime win. The game majorly changes the complexion of a series that pitted the league’s two best teams but had been all Pittsburgh so far, yet it’s hard to focus on anything but Crosby pinballing between Alex Ovechkin’s stick at Matt Niskanen’s cross-check. And while Crosby’s brain is obviously the immediate area of concern, don’t underestimate how awkwardly his left knee buckled:
We should find out more about Crosby’s health today. We definitely will learn today whether Niskanen, who was sent to the dressing room, will face any additional discipline from the league. So get those takes in now. (Niskanen’s hit was manna from heaven for the take-industrial complex. There were so many moving parts, and so much preexisting context, that it’s possible to see just about anything you want to see in it. It’s a Rorschach cross-check.)
“Absolutely not. It wasn’t intentional,” said Niskanen, a former Penguins defenseman who once fought Crosby while playing for the Dallas Stars.
“I’ve seen the replay. In super slow-mo, it looks really bad. He’s coming across trying to score. As he’s doing that, he’s getting lower and lower. When it’s happening that fast ... my stick and his head collided. I wasn’t extending, trying to hit him in the head. It happened quickly.
“I wasn’t even trying to cross-check him with a serious amount of force. A collision was going to happen there in the crease. When the play first starts, I think my stick had about his arm level probably right about where the numbers are on the side of his jersey. Because he’s trying to make a play, he’s getting lower and lower. He’s getting pressured.”
The Penguins, expectedly, were pissed off.
I’m trying to look at this hit in a vacuum, and having a very hard time doing so. You can’t remove Crosby from the emotional reaction to the play, even though you also can’t take him into account when judging Niskanen. On a personal level I’m upset that it’s Crosby, specifically, who is injured again (any big star would draw a similar reaction, but there is no bigger star, and certainly none with a track record to make you fear how long-term this could be). And on a practical level, the fact that it’s Crosby means we’re all going to see more replays of the hit, and read and hear more discussion of it, then we would otherwise—and at a certain point it’s hard not to be influenced by what others are saying.
At this exact moment, if you put me on the spot, I’d say Niskanen doesn’t deserve any suspension. I think it was his and Crosby’s combined momentums, rather than Niskanen driving through Crosby, that made the hit so violent, and it was Crosby’s dropping to the ice that made it a headshot, not any sort of targeting. I reserve the right to change my verdict if you ask me five minutes from now.
I apologize for not having a firmer take. But sometimes it’s OK to throw your hands up and say shit’s complex, I’m glad it isn’t my job to make this decision.
(The Washington Post cites a source as saying that, as of last night, the NHL was leaning toward no additional discipline for Niskanen.)
Update: No hearing for Niskanen.
The Penguins have been rolling. They’ve rolled on through the loss of Kris Letang, their top defenseman. They haven’t lost a step with the loss of No. 1 goaltender Matt Murray, thanks to the play of Marc-Andre Fleury. But this is obviously different. Crosby is irreplaceable. If the Caps come back to win this series, or if the Pens fall in the next round or in the Finals, you will never be able to convince me that Crosby’s absence wasn’t the reason why.