Sunday, January 04, 2009

A Tale of Two Fights

There were ten fights recorded in the NHL on Saturday. However, only two of them will get a lot of attention this morning and, perhaps, for the next few days.

In one, Sidney Crosby – allegedly the poster boy of the National Hockey League – was engaged with Brett McLean of the Florida Panthers. In the other, Alexander Semin – who garnered a lot of attention for comments directed at Crosby earlier in the year – took on Marc Staal.

You’ve seen the videos (they are posted below), and looking at them side by side, we’ll say this…we looked at Alexander Semin with his unique style and chuckled. We looked at Sidney Crosby and shook our head.

What on earth was Crosby thinking? Frustration? OK, his team has been slumping lately and was being manhandled by, of all teams, the Florida Panthers (authors of a four game losing streak before heading to the therapeutic confines of Mellon Arena). Crosby had taken a fair amount of abuse on the ice in this game, but this is nothing new, and he’s hardly the only star in the league targeted for bumping, pushing, and shoving. He had engaged in some pushing and shoving of his own against his primary tormenter – Gregory Campbell – a couple of times during play. They had drawn coincidental minors for holding (Crosby) and roughing (Campbell) in the second period. All part of the game – sometimes it’s chippy out there.

But here is where things got strange… On his second shift after serving his penalty, Campbell paid the price, as Maxime Talbot stepped up for his teammate and captain (lost in all of this, it seems, is Talbot’s stepping up like that) and dueled Campbell in a fight. One would think the score was settled, at least for this game.

Well, you’d have another think coming.

On the ensuing faceoff – two seconds after the Talbot-Campbell fight – Crosby jumped his opposite number in the faceoff circle – Brett McLean, who had his head down to take the draw – and proceeded to yank on his jersey and drag him along the ice for ten seconds before the linesmen could jump in and end the moment. What was the point? Crosby is described as “not a fighter;” he has had one other fight in his career, that against Andrew Ference in 2007. Well, if Crosby wasn’t much of a fighter, then how would you describe McLean, whose only fight in his career was in 2005 (that one against Mike Comrie)?

If this had been an incident in its own context – Crosby looking to exact a measure of revenge for abuse from the nearest Panther – one might understand it better, even if they didn’t agree with his taking it out on McLean. But two seconds after another fight? Against a guy who is probably less of a fighter that Crosby? Who had his head down and was more or less sucker-punched (although punching wasn’t a feature of this fight)? It seems equal parts self-indulgent and gutless, even after Crosby explained afterward (or re-wrote history, depending on who you’re inclined to believe) that he’d asked McLean to go, to which McLean agreed.

Frankly, that explanation doesn’t wash. When players ask and agree to go in fights in this league, there seems to be a ritual. The puck drops, the players stand and face each other, drop their gloves, square off, and go. Not this time. The puck hadn’t hit the ice on the faceoff when Crosby was tugging on McLean’s jersey in an attempt to pull it over his head.

Say what you will about the comic relief that was the Semin fight. He looked his opponent in the eye before taking him on (and Staal got in the first punch). The light of the league didn’t give his opponent that much of a chance.


DMG said...

One of the oft repeated cliches in hockey is. "they don't ask how, they just ask how many". Of course, that usually applies to goals, not fight wins, but that doesn't mean it's not applicable here. He may have looked ridiculous (the bling didn't help) but I don't think you could say he didn't come out the victor.

exwhaler said...

Small update...McLean claims he never talked to Crosby about fighting and never said "yes" to him.

Chris said...

Great post, Peerless.