PITTSBURGH, Pa. - Sidney Crosby is strongly defending his decision to not play for Canada in the upcoming World Hockey Championship, saying he needs to go through the full summer of preparation he missed because of a concussion last year.
While Pittsburgh Penguins teammate Evgeni Malkin will play for Russia — "Really, I don't have a choice," Malkin said — Crosby declined Tuesday an invitation to play for Team Canada in Helsinki and Stockholm from May 4-20.
"Typically, I'd be there in a second, but this isn't a normal situation and this isn't me trying to hide away from the world championships," said Crosby. "I love playing for Team Canada."
Crosby was surprised to hear that some Canadians are upset with his decision. He last played for his homeland in the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, when he scored the overtime goal that carried Canada past the United States in the gold-medal game.
"Anyone who is questioning that right now obviously doesn't know me or aren't thinking right," Crosby said. "I mean, I don't have anything to say about that."
But because he has missed so much playing time to concussion-related issues over the last two seasons — 101 games, plus the 2011 playoffs — Crosby said it is very important for him to have a healthy, regular summer of preparation. He has not played a full NHL season since 2009-10.
"I feel pretty good. (But) the last year and a half has been tough," Crosby said. "It's been tough to stay healthy. I think the best thing to do is to give myself a full summer for to get ready for next year and have a full season."
Crosby, widely considered to be hockey's premier player at the time, was leading the NHL scoring race with 66 points in 41 games when he sustained a season-ending concussion in January 2011.
Because of ongoing concussion-related symptoms — spatial issues, headaches and sensitivity to bright light and loud noise — Crosby could do little off-season training until late last summer. He was banned from contact for most of training camp, then missed the first 20 games of the season before returning with a spectacular two-goal, two-assist effort against the New York Islanders on Nov. 21.
But the 24-year-old Crosby played in only seven more games before the symptoms returned following a physical game against the Boston Bruins on Dec. 5. He was out another three-plus months, then came back to play in the Penguins' final 14 regular season games and their six-game Stanley Cup playoffs loss to the Flyers.
While he absorbed several hard hits late in the Flyers series — including an inadvertent one from Malkin — Crosby said he currently has no concussion-like symptoms.
As Crosby and his teammates packed up their gear Tuesday, they attempted to explain how a powerful team that accumulated 51 wins and 108 points during the season — the second-most in franchise history — collapsed against the Flyers.
Not only did the Penguins lose the first two games after building multi-goal leads — they lost 4-3 in overtime in Game 1 after being ahead 3-0 — their defensive system collapsed while allowing 30 goals in six games. The Flyers also converted on 52 per cent of their power play opportunities.
"To a man, we did not do the job. We underperformed. We have to figure out the reason why and that starts with me," general manager Ray Shero said.
Coach Dan Bylsma, who looked as equally perplexed as Shero did, said, "We were not at our best and I'll take full responsibility."
Crosby said there is plenty of blame to share for the Penguins' second successive first-round loss. Part of the problem was their big-ticket talent, including Crosby and Malkin, were outplayed by the Flyers' top players, including series star Claude Giroux.
"Just because you won before doesn't mean you can show up for the first round of the playoffs and walk through it," Crosby said. "You have to learn some lessons like that sometimes, we got a tough one and I think we'll be better for it. "
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