Sports. Honestly. Since 2011

Can Steve Downie “Save” Sidney Crosby?

It’s no secret that the Pittsburgh Penguins did not reach their lofty standards last year. Their massive front office overhaul, despite 109 regular season points, shows that ownership clearly knows something needs to change. If the James Neal trade is any indication, maybe ownership thinks a lot should change. The bottom line is: for the Penguins to win the Stanley Cup again, Sidney Crosby has to be at his best.

Now I know that everyone likes to point at Crosby’s 5th best all time (behind Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux, Barry Pederson and Mark Messier) 1.247 points per game in the playoffs, but he has drastically underperformed in the last two post-seasons. All injury excuses aside, the real reason is because the Penguins have allowed opponents to beat on Crosby like he was a worthless rag doll. Let’s all remember Marc Staal of the Rangers following Crosby around in this year’s Eastern Conference quarterfinals. Staal began to beat Crosby down the moment the puck even got near him. Yet nothing was done by a single player or coach to help Crosby get some space away from Staal. Then, coach Dan Byslma didn’t even attempt to alter line match-ups to get Crosby free (which is probably a big reason why he got fired). Plus, no Penguins player even engaged Staal to attempt to get him off of Crosby.

The fact of the matter is that when Crosby was playing with the likes of Bill Guerin and Gary Roberts on his line, Staal (or anyone for that matter), would not have been allowed to hassle Crosby like that. The aforementioned players would have made Staal pay the price for bruising their superstar and Staal would have to think twice before beating on Crosby. Considering Crosby’s playoff line mates this year (Chris Kunitz and 5-foot-8 Brian Gibbons), the Penguins obviously have forgotten this main ingredient that helped them, and Crosby, raise Lord Stanley’s cup not too long ago.

The truth is, if anyone should know the magnitude of this problem, it’s Penguins owner Lemieux. During his career, he encounter the exact same problem as Crosby. He had amazing skill and, to circumvent that skil,l smart opponents would beat on him in an attempt to slow him down. Lemieux would constantly put up amazing regular season numbers and then the playoffs would come and opponents would batter Lemieux at no expense. Enter Kevin Stevens. Once Stevens became a regular line mate of Lemieux, he made it his duty to protect Lemieux. With opponents wary of beating on Lemieux because of Stevens, the Penguins prospered and won two Cups.

Byslma and general manager Ray Shero did not address this problem and they hung their superstar out to dry, that’s why they lost their jobs. It’s no surprise that one of new GM Jim Rutherford’s first moves was to bring in skilled enforcer Steve Downie. Despite Downie’s excellent scoring ability, he comes with a boatload of baggage. Downie is known around the league for his violent play and poor temper, which has ruined his welcome with previous teams.   Considering the Penguins just traded Neal because of his carelessness and poor temper, it seems like an odd signing and has been met with skepticism from critics around the league.

If you ask me, I think Downie’s “bad boy” perception is exactly what the Penguins want. The fact is, if you are an opponent you have to be concerned with what Downie might do. With that in their mind, they are less likely to go after Crosby considering the price they may have to pay from Downie. That is exactly what the Penguins want and need. If Crosby can get space in the playoffs, then the Penguins chances of winning are greatly increased. The major question for Downie is whether he’ll get himself into trouble before the playoffs even start. For the Penguins sake and, more importantly, for Crosby’s, I hope it works out. Clearly, many jobs depend on it.


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