Penguins saving it for the playoffs?

Penguins Q&A with Dave Molinari

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Q: Is there any merit to a potential argument that the Penguins are waiting (for lack of a better word) for the playoffs to ramp up their game, that regular-season games don't have as big a sense of urgency after two long postseason runs in consecutive years?

Kevin Jacobsen, Canonsburg

MOLINARI: Anything is possible, of course, but that certainly wouldn't be the most plausible explanation for their inability to elevate their game and keep it there as the regular season winds down. Perhaps it's just a matter of time until they begin to compete with the passion and attention to detail they showed during the stretch drive and playoffs last year, but it's hardly out of the question that they never will.

Fatigue definitely could be a problem -- the coaching staff's concern about that possibility is evidenced by the number of days-off the players have gotten -- when a team is coming off two long playoff runs (and correspondingly short summers), particularly when a handful of its core players also participated in the Olympics. Defenseman Sergei Gonchar, who is 35 and logs a lot of minutes, is one who clearly looks as if he'd benefit from a rest.

Unfortunately for the Penguins, there really is something at stake for them over the next few weeks. Getting the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference would assure them of home ice for the first two rounds of the playoffs, and would eliminate any danger of having to face Washington -- which will be the top seed and probably the favorite to advance to the Stanley Cup final -- until the Eastern final. Because of that, sleepwalking through the rest of the regular season to gird for the playoffs isn't an option, although the Penguins (and most teams) will tell you that they're more concerned with how they're playing when the playoffs arrive than with where they're seeded or who they'll face.

Q: Is it just me or is Sidney Crosby getting booed a lot more on the road more recently? Booing him every time he touches the puck has always been the norm in Philadelphia, and D.C. has adopted the practice in the past couple of years due to the growing rivalry between Sid and Alexander Ovechkin, but it seems like fans at recent Penguins road games (New Jersey, Boston, Detroit) have started this practice. (Not to mention the anti-Crosby chants throughout the game in the not-so-aptly-named "Hockeytown." What better way to show you are the best "Hockeytown" than by slandering one of the world's best players?). I can't recall the superstars of my youth (Mario Lemieux, Wayne Gretzky, Brett Hull, Steve Yzerman, etc.) receiving such treatment when they were on the road. Do fans today just have less respect for the game than they used to or is Sid really that hated outside of Pittsburgh?

Steve, Centerville, Ohio

MOLINARI: Crosby faces more hostility from fans on the road than any player in the league and, as you noted, the list of places where that happens is growing.

Guys like the previous generation of stars that you listed certainly weren't beloved everywhere they went -- Gretzky, for example, probably didn't view a trip to the Civic Arena as one of the highlights of a given season -- but the treatment they got during games is nothing like that to which Crosby is subjected.

Why people act the way they do is a question better put to a psychiatrist, but there are at least a couple of factors that have contributed to the animosity Crosby faces. The league chose to make him its face -- something Crosby did not request, and in which he had no say -- when he entered it in 2005, and that turned him into an automatic target for some people. Then, when he broke into the league, he acted like, well, an 18-year-old at times, particularly when he believed an opponent had done something penalty-worthy to him, but had gone unpunished. And when then-Philadelphia coach Ken Hitchcock labeled him a "diver," people were quick to embrace that, as well.

Finally, one suspects that what Crosby deals with on the road reflects a general decline in civility in our society (as anyone familiar with some of the things that happened during the recent healthcare reform debate can attest), and the reality that some people seem to feel that if they're part of a crowd, they no longer are subject to the rules that generally govern how one conducts oneself.

Also, one can't help but wonder how many of the people who are particularly vile when screaming at him during a game -- including those folks who think they're being really clever and original when they mutate Crosby's first name into that of a female -- are the same ones who would sell one of their children's kidneys for a chance to have their photo taken with him.

(Finally, it's worth mentioning yet again that "Hockeytown" was a marketing slogan the Red Wings broke out during the 1990s. Nothing more, nothing less. Yes, there are a lot of highly knowledgeable fans in Detroit, as in every Original Six city and quite a few others. But no, bearing that label is not evidence, in and of itself, of a particularly astute or classy fan base.)


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