Tuesday, April 29, 2008

WRIST SHOTS: CONSPIRACY CONSHMEARACY

PITTSBURGH - APRIL 27: Jordan Staal #11 of the Pittsburgh Penguins shoots the puck past goaltender Henrik Lundqvist #30 of the New York Rangers for a power play goal in the second period during game two of the Eastern Conference Semifinals of the 2008 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs on April 27, 2008 at Mellon Arena in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)In the New York area, the discourse surrounding the first two games of the Rangers/Penguins series have been decidedly NOT about hockey. This is not a surprise, as the New York (sports) media is seemingly built on sensationalism and ridicule, but it is more than a little disheartening. But instead of focusing on the Rangers' defensive lapses that erased a 3-0 lead halfway through Game 1 (thanks to twice giving up 2 quick goals, 14 and 20 seconds apart, respectively), and their inability to score during 7 power plays in Game 2, blame for the teams' predicament seems to be focused elsewhere.

If you don't watch hockey all year or have only started to tune in due to the Rangers' recent success, I can understand that you might smell a controversy or feel some injustices have been thrust upon them. Allow me to address some of the accusatory statements that seem to be flying around the Metro area this time of year like so much grass pollen.

1. "Crosby is getting all the calls!" He's a phenomenal player, and thus draws more attention as other teams focus on him. He also skates with the puck like he owns it, and keeps his feet moving through traffic. Therefore, it's no mystery or conspiracy that he draws a lot of penalties. Fast, skilled puckhandlers lead the list of most penalties drawn per game (Crosby, Cole, M. Richards), as do those who complain a lot after the whistle (Avery, Burrows). Late in Game 1, Crosby was interfered with in the neutral zone to prevent a 2-on-1 breakaway from occuring, the exact type of interference infraction that everyone has been complaining about since the invention of the "neutral zone trap". Now people are arguing that it shouldn't have been called a penalty. I'm sorry, you can't have it both ways.

2. "Crosby is a diver!" In Game 2, Tyutin pulled Sid by his shoulder in the corner, and he really had no other choice but to go down. Instead of inspiring his own team to kill the penalty and fight through it, Jagr immediately skated over and bitched at Crosby allegedly accusing him of diving. This helps absolutely no one, and he even later admitted former teammate Super Mario used to get the same superstar treatment. Jagr has let this get into his head, just like Brodeur let Avery get into his noggin in the first round. Instead of getting guarantees and positive talk from their team captain, they get to hear him complaining to the media about the officials--not a good sign.

3. "Crosby is a sissy!" The hell he is. He goes out there and busts his buns EVERY NIGHT. You tell your old man to try dragging Avery and Jagr up and down the ice for 60 minutes.

4. "The NHL wants the Penguins to win!" This statement is total bullshit, as New York is the #1 media market in the country. Furthermore, I'd argue that Bettman is less concerned with ratings than with bringing the Cup to non-traditional hockey cities (Tampa, Carolina, Anaheim), and neither city in this series is in that category.

5. "The refs are screwing the Rangers!" New York penalties = 12 (I didn't count the one Straka got for complaining at the end of Game 1), Pittsburgh penalties = 10. Yeah, that's not exactly an unbalanced screw job there. In Game 1, the Rangers got a PP early and scored, while the Penguins scored on a late PP (which cancel out, since both goals are equal). Meanwhile, the Rangers got two PPs late in Game 2 (13:54, 17:38) and didn't score. The quick whistle before the Rangers seemingly tied up the game was an unfortunate break, but there's nothing you can do about that (and even the Rangers didn't complain as much as the fans have).

As an objective observer with no rooting interest (well, I was rooting for a long OT game on Sunday), they've been calling this series pretty fairly by my estimation, consistent with what we've seen in the regular season. If the Rangers don't shift their focus away from the refs and back on their opponents tonight at MSG, this will be a very short series.