With their heavily favoured team deadlocked in its series against Columbus, Penguins fans are pointing fingers at goalie Marc-Andre Fleury and coach Dan Bylsma. But captain Sidney Crosby shouldn't be let off the hook either.
Fleury -- the wanderer -- shoots himself in the foot time and time again and never seems to learn from his mistakes. The veteran goalie has a penchant for leaving his crease in pursuit of the puck at the most inopportune times, only to have it bite him in the butt.
In his defence, every goalie in the world would have gone behind the net to attempt to stop the puck as he did Wednesday night, only to have it bounce over his stick -- a play that led to the Columbus Blue Jackets forcing overtime and eventually winning when Fleury let in Nick Foligno's long wrister.
As for Bylsma, it's always the coach's fault, right? Even though general manager Ray Shero didn't provide him with a suitable backup goalie, an NHL-calibre defence and depth at forward, it's the coach's fault.
In fact, both Sid the Skid and Malkin have not scored a goal in nine consecutive playoff games, dating back to last year. That in itself is curious, but Crosby -- regarded as the best player in the world -- is not playing with his customary grit and determination. His game lacks bite.
Crosby looked ordinary, by his own lofty standards, when he was held without a point as the Penguins were dismissed from last year's playoffs in four games by the Boston Bruins. He had 15 points in 14 post-season games, but the lasting memory is of him being invisible against the Bruins.
Thus far against the upstart Blue Jackets, he has done nothing to separate himself from the pack. In fact, Crosby's six giveaways lead all skaters in the post-season.
Without trying to pile on, Crosby did nothing out of the ordinary for Team Canada at the Sochi Olympics in February. Sure, Canada won the gold medal, but that was more a reflection of the team's solid defensive play and great goaltending from Carey Price than anything Crosby did. He was held to a goal and three points in six games.
So what the heck is going on?
The most obvious thing is how the Blue Jackets have been able to abuse Crosby. Every time he turns around he is being hacked and whacked and bumped and knocked to the ice. There is no fear of retribution for messing with the best player in the world.
Nobody on the Blue Jackets has been SemenKO'd for abusing Pittsburgh's prized pupil. Can you imagine Wayne Gretzky being manhandled the way Crosby has been by Columbus and the offending opponent not paying the price?
Not a chance. Semenko or Marty McSorley or Curt Brackenbury or Steve Smith or Lee Fogolin would have messed up anybody who gave Gretzky a dirty look.
It has been open season on Crosby.
Then there is the issue of Crosby's linemates. Chris Kunitz has done a good job riding shotgun for Crosby and is a solid, dependable player in his own right, but he is no Corey Perry to Anaheim's Ryan Getzlaf. He's no Jamie Benn to Dallas's Tyler Seguin.
Then there's the problem of the third member of the top line, be it Beau Bennett or Brian Gibbons or Lee Stempniak. They fill a role, but what do they bring to the table that helps Crosby raise his level of play?
Malkin won the Conn Smythe Trophy in 2009, so we know he can raise the level of his play this time of year. When Crosby is healthy -- and one assumes he is -- it is he who drives the bus, not Malkin.
And if the Penguins are to eliminate the Blue Jackets and go deep into the playoffs, Crosby needs to be better.
Paying the price
Foligno scored the OT winner for Columbus in Game 4, but it was a blocked shot in the defensive zone by veteran R. J. Umberger that set up the goal.
Call the dive
Or, as Tampa Bay's Steven Stamkos said from the penalty box in Game 4 against the Montreal Canadiens, "Call the #@$%#@ dive!"
Of course, whistling a diving penalty is a real discretionary call for referees who are already under a lot of pressure.
Some, though, are blatantly obvious. Like when Pittsburgh's Tanner Glass flopped to the ice like he had been shot, looked quickly to see he had not succeeded in drawing a penalty and immediately popped back up and joined the play.
Mike BrophyMike Brophy brings a wealth of hockey writing and broadcasting experience to CBC Sports, having covered junior hockey for 14 years before joining The Hockey News as its senior writer for 17 years starting in 1992. Most recently, the Burlington, Ont., native worked as a writer/commentator at Rogers Sportsnet and as co-host of The Power Play on SiriusXM. Mike has written four books, including My First Goal, featuring 50 players describing their first NHL goals.
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