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Mike Doyle's Five Takeaways at Pittsburgh

by Mike Doyle / Minnesota Wild

Following Wild games, Managing Editor Mike Doyle will give the Five Takeaways that he'll remember from the contest. Tonight, he looks back at a 5-2 loss against the Pittsburgh Penguins:

The Wild struggled in the first game of its three-game road trip and a red hot Penguins team took advantage. Despite being without four of its regular defenseman (Kris Letang, Paul Martin, Brooks Orpik and Rob Scuderi are all injured) and high-scoring center Evgeni Malkin, the Pens just keep rolling, extending its win streak to six games tonight. But when you have Sidney Crosby (we’ll get to him) you can sustain a string of injuries that would decimate just about any other team.

It was the first meeting between the two teams in two years, and the Penguins snapped a six-game losing streak at home against the Wild. Despite not facing each other very often, this was certainly a testy game, with 52 minutes of penalties racked up between the teams. There were also three fights and plenty of big hits, by one Wild player in particular (we’ll get to that).

After the game, Wild Head Coach Mike Yeo wasn’t happy with his team’s effort tonight, and it had to be especially disappointing in his first return to Pittsburgh…

Two members of the Wild returned to Pittsburgh tonight for the first time since leaving the Pens’ organization. Matt Cooke and Yeo were both recognized during the game as helping the Penguins win the Stanley Cup in 2009. Cooke signed as a free agent with Minnesota this summer after fives season with the Penguins, racking up 150 points (67-83=150) in 352 games. Yeo spent six seasons in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton as an assistant coach of the Baby Pens, the team’s American Hockey League affiliate, and four-plus years in Pittsburgh as an assistant coach

Before the game, Cooke acknowledged that the fans in Pittsburgh stood by him during the “tough times” when he was often considered Public Enemy Number One by opposing fan bases throughout the NHL for his agitating style of play. However, while with Pittsburgh, Cooke changed his style and his game, and became a reliable two-way player that Wild fans get to see everyday. After Cooke was given a video tribute, he gave the Pittsburgh faithful a wave in recognition as the fans cheered loudly showing their appreciation.

Wild defenseman Keith Ballard is the master of a lost art: the hip check. Tonight, he blew up two Pens players, Craig Adams and James Neal, like a cherry bomb in a mailbox. Ballard was called for clipping on the second hipper on Neal, but it looked like a well timed hit from where I was watching. Both players took exception to the hits and dropped the gloves with Ballard.

While I like the odd fight when they are warranted, fighting a player after a clean hit is something I’ll never understand. There is nothing that is more annoying than seeing a clean hit followed by a teammate of the guy who got hit jumping the hitter. While this wasn’t the case tonight, at least Adams and Neal dropped the gloves themselves, it is a trend that needs to be eradicated from the game. If you get caught, live with it, unless you’re going to drop the mitts yourself like Adams and Neal did tonight. Also give credit to Ballard, who manned up when the Penguins took exception to his perfectly timed open-ice checks.

Tonight, Sidney Crosby showed why many consider him the best player in the world. Crosby had two assists, both setups coming with the center’s unique skill set. The Pens got on the board only 49 seconds into the first period as Crosby started the play. First, he rushed into the zone with speed and fed the puck out wide. After a shot, he cut to the net and whacked the rebound out of midair toward the net on his backhand. The puck bounced around and Chris Kunitz shoved it home for his first of the game. On his second assist, Crosby was behind the net and smoked a backhand pass, cross ice from the corner to the slot, right onto the tape of a cutting Kunitz, who tapped it home. It was the type of no-look pass that only a few NHLers are able to make, but Crosby seems to complete on a nightly basis. 

When I was invited to Pittsburgh’s training camp in 2005, I was in awe of a lot of things. Catching a pass from my childhood idol Mario Lemieux was a lifetime highlight, NHL per diem lasted a month when I was eventually sent to Wheeling and I learned the majesty of the waterfall-shower/steam-room combo after a night on the town. But nothing was more impressive than witnessing Sidney Crosby before his rookie season. At 18, he worked harder than anyone at the camp, he was more competitive and you could see his genius in little moments, pulling off moves going full speed that I dared not try on an outdoor rink…

I was in a funny conversation with some other Pens prospects and they were talking about how Crosby didn’t look that special. I laughed and said he was probably going to score 100 points that season, while they predicted his downfall. His rookie season, he finished sixth in league scoring with 102 points (39-63=102) and was a runner-up for the Calder Memorial Trophy. The next year, he led the NHL with 120 points (36-84=120) to capture the Art Ross, Hart and Lester B. Pearson Award. He continues to make the impossible seem mundane and those other prospects couldn’t have been more wrong about him.

Crosby gets a lot of heat for being a whiner, which at times is justified because he wants calls from the refs. But he’s one of the most elite players in the world; so wanting calls from the refs is not out of the question, as the best players should get more calls than the average player because they have the puck more often than everyone else. A lot of times, his crybaby label is unfair because it spawns from petty jealously from other fan bases, similar to those prospects who said he wasn’t special.

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