Penguins fume over controversial hit
No one -- not even Sidney Crosby -- saw the hit, but after 48 hours of reflection and replay viewing, the Penguins aren't happy.
The rivalry between the Penguins and Washington Capitals probably didn't require more sizzle but received some Monday when a number of players, including Crosby, spoke out against David Steckel's controversial hit late in the second period of the Winter Classic.
"How tall is Steckel?" Crosby asked. "I find it hard to believe that his shoulder hit me in the head ... at 6-foot-5 ... by accident."
In the final stages of the second period Saturday, Washington forced a turnover and started a rush toward Penguins territory. The 5-foot-11 Crosby, who was in Washington territory, turned toward the neutral zone. He then collided with Steckel, with one replay showing Steckel angling his right arm into Crosby's head.
The Penguins' captain appeared stunned following the hit but managed to return for the third period. No penalty was called.
"It was definitely dirty," defenseman Brooks Orpik said. "Sid was just skating by and he definitely wasn't near the puck."
The contact with Crosby's head was unnecessary, in the Penguins' eyes.
"It looked like he went a little bit lateral on him, which was the dirty part of it," Orpik said.
For a number of reasons, the hit didn't receive much initial coverage. NBC only showed one replay of the hit and did not make a fuss over it.
Also, since Washington had the puck and was moving toward Penguins territory, everyone on the ice -- maybe even the officials -- had turned their attention away from Crosby and Steckel.
"No one saw it," left wing Mike Rupp said. "If anybody would have seen it, I promise there would have been a reaction. No one saw anything. Sid didn't even know what happened."
Rupp, one of the Penguins who takes protecting Crosby seriously, was not pleased with the hit.
"Any time the puck isn't there and you finish your hit on a guy isn't good," Rupp said. "We aren't happy about it. It was not a clean play."
Following Saturday's game, Steckel was questioned about the hit but maintained it was nothing more than an accidental collision.
"I was just trying to turn and go the other way on a 3-on-1," he said. "I can't say anything until I see the replay. It wasn't on purpose, I promise you that."
Crosby stopped short of saying that Steckel's hit was intended to injure the NHL's leading scorer, but there was a suspicious tone in his voice when commenting on the hit.
In fact, Crosby initially answered a question about the hit by saying, "It doesn't really matter now. There's no point really talking about it."
The Penguins' captain then added, "Whether he meant to or not, I guess only he knows that."
An epic playoff series, the two biggest stars in hockey playing on opposite sides and being extensively featured by HBO has turned the Penguins-Capitals rivalry into hockey's biggest feud. The latest incident should only add fuel to the fire.
The Penguins and Capitals next meet Feb. 6 in Washington in a nationally televised, 12:30 p.m. start.
Orpik made it clear that the Penguins won't forgive and forget Steckel's hit.
When asked about Steckel, Orpik simply said, "We still play him a couple of times."
Winter Classic 2011
The Bridgestone 2011 NHL Winter Classic featuring the Pittsburgh Penguins vs. the Washington Capitals, Saturday, Jan. 1, 2011 at Heinz Field.
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