Crosby drops the gloves, but Pens' problems remain the same

January, 4, 2009
Here's some more Winter Classic fallout.

Not surprisingly, NBC was thrilled with the second Winter Classic. Thursday's Wings-Hawks tilt at Wrigley earned a 2.9 overnight rating, up 12 percent from last year's game. Chicago pulled an 11.8 rating, while Detroit posted a 10.5. The next three markets, in ratings order, were Buffalo (10.1), St. Louis (5.3) and Pittsburgh (4.4).

Although some fans still feel the Winter Classic should be moved to another date, NBC likes New Year's Day for two very good reasons: It's a good television-viewing day -- perhaps the best on the calendar -- and it has a weaker New Year's Day bowl menu because of the BCS schedule.

Common sense would tell you the U.S. network would prefer to have two American-based teams face off in the Classic. That's how you maximize ratings in the U.S. Of course, that doesn't do much for the millions of hockey crazies in Canada who'd like to take it outside.

There is a solution, I think. How about a second outdoor game between a pair of Canadian teams? I don't know if the finances work, but there seems to be an awful lot of interest, and the league owns a traveling refrigeration system and rink setup. Why not get a little more use out of it? I'll have to check with league ice guru Dan Craig when he gets a chance to thaw. It's a lot of work, but perhaps a second outdoor game could be done every other season.

Sid the slugger
Hey, did you catch Sidney Crosby's slugging it out with Panthers veteran Brett McLean in the second period of the Pens' 6-1 home ice loss on Saturday afternoon? It was Crosby's second NHL fight. He threw down with Boston's Andrew Ference last season.

Against McLean, Crosby did well for himself. He definitely got the jump on McLean, who likely was surprised by Crosby's willingness to go. For his efforts, he received 19 penalty minutes (two minutes for instigating, two minutes for unsportsmanlike conduct, five minutes for fighting and a 10-minute misconduct). The Penguins were down 4-1 when Crosby decided to drop the gloves.

Clearly, the Pens' captain and his mates are growing more and more frustrated by their recent struggles. The defending Eastern Conference champs have dropped four in a row and five of their past six games. They're 6-11-1 in their past 18 games and have lost five straight at home. Believe it or not, Saturday's loss combined with Buffalo's win at Boston push Pittsburgh into ninth place in the East. As you know, only the top eight teams will advance to the playoffs.

The Pens have a busy week in front of them. They play four games in six nights, starting with a trip to Madison Square Garden to play the Rangers on Monday night. If things don't get turned around soon, we can expect to hear a call for a coaching change. It's no secret around the league that the Penguins' players aren't in love with coach Michel Therrien. When things are going well, the coach-player relationship usually is manageable. When things aren't going so well, those problems can lead to a change.

The Pens' coach does have one thing going for him. Pittsburgh GM Ray Shero worked under patient Nashville manager David Poile and isn't one to overreact. Still, I would think it's something worth keeping an eye on.

American disappointment
If I hadn't seen this movie before, I'd be really disappointed by Team USA's performance at the World Junior Championship, which will conclude with the gold-medal game between Canada and Sweden on Monday. Isn't it time for some changes at USA Hockey?

E.J. Hradek

Senior Writer, ESPN The Magazine
E.J. Hradek is a senior writer at ESPN The Magazine, joining the staff prior to its launch in 1998. He began covering hockey as a writer/editor for Hockey Illustrated in 1989.



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