Somewhere, Teddy Atlas is smiling.
Alright, we highly doubt Atlas watches hockey, but if by chance he flipped on Dallas’ 5-2 win over Pittsburgh Wednesday night, he’d have a grin from ear to ear to match his signature scar. That’s because Sidney Crosby, the NHL’s cash cow and for one night only the little bulldog that could, dropped the mitts for the fifth time in his career.
It was as if the Penguins and Stars had some kind of built-up history. With Dallas leading 4-1 in the second period, the intensity level rose quickly, and so did the frustration on the Pittsburgh bench. Three fights occurred in just a few minutes, and Crosby’s tussle with defeceman Matt Niskanen was the main event:
Crosby is similar to other players who rarely fight in that he seems genuinely enraged from the very instant he drops the gloves. We all love a good scrap, but these staged fights between two heavyweights (see: every Colton Orr fight) lack emotion. The goons fight because it’s their job, and if they don’t hit their quota they’ll meet the unemployment line. Crosby seems like his sole purpose in life during the few seconds of this fight is to drive Niskanen through the ice.
But the combination of blinding rage and inexperience leads to a lack of form. Let’s take a journey back through Crosby’s history of violence, and see just how his random penchant for punch-ups has evolved.
Round 1: Crosby vs. Andrew Ference
This is the first time we saw an enraged Crosby, causing Tim Hortons hockey moms to watch in horror. There’s no way they’re letting this Crobsy creep up to their kid from a broken down bus to play shinny.
This is also the first time we see what has become a standard Crosby fight tactic. We’ll call it the grab-pull-twist. Maybe it’s because of his fit of anger, or maybe Crosby just doesn’t have the confidence to stand back and throw haymakers, but his first reaction after the gloves hit the ice is to engage in close combat.
What usually follows is a brief flurry of rabbit punches, and the combatant who lands the most convincing blow hits the ice last.
Round 2: Crosby vs. Brett McLean
My apologies for the awful music. I’m not sure why people post videos set to music enjoyed only by spikey-haired rockers with eyebrow rings and think it’s a nice, artistic touch.
Crosby’s second foray into fisticuffs caused a bit of a stir amongst the keyboard warriors in hockeyland. The captain was trying to spark his stagnant team by engaging in a fight. This is not a revolutionary hockey idea, and it happens on a near nightly basis. But it was the way in which Crosby orchestrated the fight–or didn’t orchestrate it, depending on your opinion–that drew the ire of the masses.
Crosby told reporters after the game that he asked McLean if he wanted to fight, and he said McLean accepted his invitation to the dance. But here’s where Crosby’s following of the fight protocol gets a little murky. McLean not only didn’t hear Crosby’s invitation, but he didn’t get a chance to respond before Sid the Kid beat on him while he had his head down and was trying to play the puck.
Round 3: Crosby vs. Keith Ballard
You’d think this fight would have stemmed from the McLean incident a few months earlier. While that may have been the hidden motivation, the gloves dropped when Crosby immediately stepped in to defend Evgeni Malkin, who had just been sent flying after a quality hip check from Keith Ballard.
Crosby’s fights usually don’t last long, and he clearly lost this one. But this is the first time Crosby was at least able to pretend and look like he knew what he was doing. He clutched and guarded properly, and made an attempt to turn away and dodge punches.
Round 4: Crosby vs. Marek Zidlicky
In our little case study Crosby has another consistent–and predictable–pattern: his team is almost always trailing. However, that wasn’t the motivation behind this scrap with Minnesota Wild defenceman Marek Zidlicky. Nope, it was the standard stick jousting that unleashed Crosby’s dark side in a fight that happened just over a year ago.
Another common Crosby fight maneuver becomes evident here too. He almost always reaches behind and goes for the jersey. He’s not always successful, but it’s a natural fighting reflex, and one that comes from a panicked player who finds himself in unfamiliar territory.