The Pittsburgh Penguins lost 5-2 to the Dallas Stars Wednesday night, but nationally the result of the game took a back seat to the fact that Sidney Crosby dropped the gloves (video here) for only the fifth time in his career. The media butchered this one. Most didn't understand why Sid got into a fight, calling it strange or out-of-the-blue. A few picked up on what Crosby said, but left it at that. There is more to it. Like baseball, hockey has its own unwritten rules, grown out of the culture of the game. These rules, how Sid viewed the Stars and what he thought was best for his own team all played a part in his decision. Here is how it went down:
The Penguins have had a lackluster start to the season. They went into Wednesday's game in Dallas a game over .500, but coming off their best team performance of the year, a 3-0 shutout of Carolina in Raleigh. In the first period Wednesday night the Penguins got worked--big time. They were outscored, outshot, out-hustled, out-everythinged and were behind 2-0. Then the fireworks started.
Midway through the second period an exchange of goals had made the score 3-1 when Pens defenseman Kris Letang and Stars center and captain Brenden Morrow dropped the gloves (video here). At 23, Letang is having a breakout year. He's among the leaders in all statistical offensive categories for defensemen. But he isn't a fighter. He's listed at 6'0", 201. Trust me, he's not. Maybe in his gear. On skates. Letang's been in two regular season fights in his career, and furthermore he recently injured his right hand which caused him to miss the second half of the Carolina game and practices leading up to the Dallas contest. But after an exchange of slashes, Morrow drops the gloves and Letang has no choice but to go. He does his best to clutch and grab because he can't throw his right, but he still gets the worst of it. Afterwards, he has a few choice words for Morrow, telling him about his hand and...well, you can see the rest.
After they clean up the sticks and gloves, Pens coach Dan Bylsma sends Mike Rupp and Eric Godard, two of the Pens "enforcers", legitimate heavyweights, onto the ice along with Crosby. Godard gets sent back to the bench because of a late line change, but it didn't matter. Sid has already planned the whole thing out. This is obvious because Sid decided not to take the draw from the left circle in Dallas' end. Sid always takes the draw in the offensive end. Every time. Instead he lined up along the left boards and, before the faceoff, asked 23-year old, 6'0", 200 lbs. defenseman Matt Niskanen if he wanted to go. I'm sure Niskanen, an American kid, was the most surprised guy in the building. And of course he went, right off the draw. In fact, I'll bet Niskanen thought it was kind of an honor. Not many guys get to fight Sidney Crosby. In fact, he was pretty humorous in the post-game interveiw. When asked if it was a story he could tell his grandchildren someday, he responded, "That I got beat up by Sidney Crosby?"
So why did Sid do it? Well as he said himself, first and foremost he was sticking up for "Tanger". There is no way Morrow should have dropped gloves with Letang, if for no other reason than he had an injured hand. There is a small chance Morrow didn't know about the injury, but I doubt it. And this is why Sid did what he did. Morrow is the Stars' captain. He was a teammate of Sid's on the Canadian Olympic team. They obviously know each other reasonably well. Morrow took on a young Penguins defenseman who he knew he could handle. Sid responded as if it was a baseball game. You hit our superstar, we'll hit yours. You hit our weak-hitting shortstop, then we'll throw at your weak-hitting catcher. An eye for an eye. Sid did it himself because he is the Pens captain and he could nip this whole thing in the bud. Any further action would be left to the heavyweights, an even deal. No one would go headhunting or be looking for a cheapshot.
If Sid doesn't do it? Maybe one of the Pens enforcers goes after Morrow. Then, maybe someone on the Stars goes after Sid. By taking care of business in, literally, two seconds, Sid tried to stick up for his teammate and inspire his team. At the same time he kept the fighting and retaliation from escalating. Dallas kicked the Pens' ass, but no bad blood is festering. The Pens don't play the Stars again this year and next year it won't be part of the storyline. A big story for the national media this week, but nothing else. Another really smart move by Sidney Crosby.