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Insider Only Steigerwald: Teams are more prepared than ever to keep stars like Crosby off the scoresheet

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Analyzing Penguins – Capitals

The Penguins couldn’t have won Game 4.

Kris Letang didn’t play and all Sidney Crosby did was get an assist and two shots on goal.

I read several previews of the game and just about every one said that Letang is the Penguins most important player and Crosby needed to do what Alexander Ovechkin did in Game 3 and dominate – preferably with a multi-point game.

So, how are the Penguins leading in this series three games to one when Crosby only has one point?

Have you watched the games?

Have you noticed how much Crosby is being harassed both legally and illegally?

On the Hockey Night in Canada telecast Wednesday night, Don Cherry showed video of Crosby being hacked and harassed and asked if anybody could imagine it happening to Gretzky.

He blamed it on the instigator rule, which he called the worst rule in the history of sports. Remember when this series was supposed to be the epic battle between superstars Alex Ovechkin and Crosby?

They’ve combined for 1 goal in four games.

Nick Bonino was second in the 2016 playoffs in assists after Game 4.

It happens a lot in the playoffs. Big stars get lots of attention in the video room from the coaches and they get even more on the ice.

Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews combined for one goal in the Blackhawks’ four games to three loss to the Blues in Round 1.

Four years ago Toews scored 3 goals in 23 playoff games. His team won the Cup.

Claude Giroux had one assist in the Flyers’ six game loss to the Capitals in Round 1.

Evgeni Kuznetzov finished third in the league in five-on-five scoring in the regular season. He has one point so far in 10 playoff games.

Superstars have to produce for a team to win the Stanley Cup and you can be sure that the Blackhawks would not have won in 2013 without Toews.

He produced plenty.

Fans and media too often make the mistake of judging a star’s production only by his points.

On the Penguins’ overtime winner in Game 4 there was no point for Crosby, but there is also no goal without him.

He beat Capitals defenseman Matt Niskanen to a loose puck in the corner, used his butt to block him out, turned, sent the puck to center point and headed for the front of the net, to the right of Braden Holtby.

Crosby was covered by two defensemen when Conor Sheary sent a shot/pass toward him. The puck bounced in front where Capitals defenseman Mike Weber swiped at it and put it right on the stick of Patric Hornqvist, who was wide open.

Game over.

Hornqvist buried it and after the game Holtby said, “I went to play Crosby and I overplayed him.”

Guys like Crosby, Ovechkin, Malkin, Giroux, Kane and Toews face teams that are much more prepared to face them in the playoffs.

And they bring another level of intensity with them to the playoffs. So superstars are often not on the scoreboard as much as fans and media expect them to be.

That’s why guys like Hornqvist and Bonino and Max Talbot (Remember him?) often find themselves in position to make history.

Series Over?

-The series isn’t over, by the way.

Maybe you remember the Penguins being up three games to one on the Rangers two years ago.

As the Hockey Professor, Bob Johnson said, “You can lose three.”

What happened in Game 4 Wednesday night will have nothing to do with what happens Saturday night in Game 5. Just as what happened Monday night in Game 3 had nothing to do with what happened in Game 4.

The Capitals’ horrific post season history won’t matter, either.

These are two very good teams – maybe the two best teams in the NHL – and they’ve played four games decided by one goal with two going to overtime.

The Capitals don’t have to win three games Saturday night. They have to win one and if I were forced to make a bet, I’d bet on them.

The Big D will be huge Saturday night.

In fact, it might be a good idea for the NHL to have a nice, big stainless steel D to move from bench to bench.

Desperation.

The Capitals will have the D on their bench and the Penguins can try to match it, but they won’t. That doesn’t mean the Penguins can’t win. It’s just why “The fourth game is the toughest game to win” is the most accurate cliché in sports.

The Crosby Impact

-I’ve noticed a lot of fans and media matter of factly referring to Kris Letang as the Penguins’ best player.

He’s not.

If you gave Capitals’ coach Barry Trotz the option of making the Penguins sit Letang or Sidney Crosby Saturday night, I’m here to tell you that he wouldn’t sit Letang.

And if there is another round or two of playoffs for the Penguins and future opposing coaches were given the same option, every one would sit Crosby.

About The Author

John Steigerwald

TIOPS Columnist

John Steigerwald, a life long Pittsburgher, has been covering PITTSBURGH sports since 1977 as a TV anchor/reporter, columnist radio reporter/commentator and talk show host. He is also the author of one of the best selling local books in Pittburgh history, "Just Watch The Game."

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