Despite largely outplaying and out-chancing the Ottawa Senators during Tuesday night’s Game 6 in Ottawa, the Penguins lost 2-1 and will have to head back to Pittsburgh for a Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals.
It was a frustrating night for the Penguins, who put 46 shots on net but only managed to get a single goal past Craig Anderson. Nobody on the ice had to deal with more frustration than Pens’ captain Sidney Crosby.
Right from the opening puck drop, the Senators put a strong emphasis on shadowing Crosby and making his night as rough as they could. That’s a pretty good strategy considering it’s Crosby, one of the league’s premier superstars. Not only did they want to neutralize him, they wanted to brutalize him.
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To Ottawa’s credit, they certainly did a good job in following through on the gameplan.
The tone was set on Crosby’s opening shift when, about 20 seconds into the game, Senators forward Mark Stone made it a point to take a free shot on No. 87 and caught him in the face. (It went unpenalized.)
That physical play continued throughout the night, as to be expected, and the Senators weren’t afraid to be ultra aggressive in order to take Crosby out of the play. During his final shift in the second period, Ottawa forward Kyle Turris basically wrestled Crosby to the ice and pinned him there as long as he could.
With a referee standing just about a foot away, there was no whistle. It was clear this was one of those “let the boys play” type of games.
Senators defenseman Marc Methot, who was matched up with Crosby for most of the night, took advantage of that. He engaged with the star center and tried to keep him occupied around the net all game long.
Methot, who suffered a grisly finger injury after taking a slash to the hand from Crosby earlier this season, went the extra mile and made sure to remind Crosby that he still has (at least some of) his digits.
But Ottawa’s most humorous attempt to get under Crosby’s skin came later in the game when Methot and teammate Mike Hoffman brought a tag team effort. As Crosby stood by the Senators bench, Methot poked and prodded him in the midsection while Hoffman squirted water at the captain.
(It’s worth noting that Shawn Thornton was given a fine for “unsportsmanlike conduct” after squirting P.K. Subban in a similar incident during the 2014 playoffs.)
A common narrative among NHL fans outside of Pittsburgh is that Crosby gets most calls in his favor because he’s one of the league’s biggest stars. You can argue that he’s given the benefit of the doubt in a lot of circumstances — as is the case with a lot of the game’s star players — but that wasn’t the case on Tuesday night.
Despite all the roughhousing and extracurriculars, Crosby drew just a single penalty — a holding call on Methot during the second period.
There’s also a common narrative that Crosby is whiner and a “crybaby” when he doesn’t get those calls. That also wasn’t the case on Tuesday night. He kept his composure throughout the game and rarely appealed to an official in an attempt to beckon a call. He didn’t have any complaints after the game, either.
“It probably escalates with every game just because teams get to know each other,” Crosby said when asked about it after the game. “It’s a natural progression with the series with the intensity. I wouldn’t say it was anything out of the ordinary.”
To his credit, Crosby still got his chances during Game 6. He had six shots on net and a few of them came in legitimate scoring opportunities, but he — like most of his teammates — was blanked on the scoresheet thanks to an outstanding performance in net by Anderson.
The Senators are known for being a hard-nosed, defense-first squad that loves to frustrate the hell out of opponents. They know that their best chance to do that lies in shutting down the opposition’s best players by any means necessary, and they were able to do that with Crosby in Game 6.
If they can do it for one more game, they may just get to play in the Stanley Cup Final.