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Crosby criticizes NHL on blindside hits

| Sunday, Jan. 9, 2011

Sidney Crosby delivered a blow to the NHL on Saturday, one nearly as significant as the hits he absorbed during the past week that resulted in his first concussion as a professional.

"You talk about head shots and dealing with them, and that's been something that's been pretty big points of interest with everybody — GMs and players," he said at his dressing-room stall at Consol Energy Center. "When I look at those two hits ... I mean, we talk about blindside, and that's a big word — unsuspecting player, there's no puck there (on both hits), and direct hit to the head on both of them. If you want to go through the criteria (of a blindside hit), I think they fit all those."

Crosby, who entered the day as the league leader in goals (32) and points (66), did not play last night against Minnesota and will not return to the lineup until he is free of symptoms that include headache, neck soreness and general sickness.

"That's pretty much been what it's like the past couple of days," he said.

Crosby spoke calmly, choosing words carefully about hits he "didn't like" from David Steckel of the Washington Capitals and Victor Hedman of the Tampa Bay Lightning. Neither is considered a dirty player.

Their hits did not draw suspensions or fines — a point of contention with Crosby, the face of the Penguins franchise and arguably the NHL, who rarely criticizes the league.

"I know it's a fast game, and I think if anybody understands it's a fast game — I've been hit a thousand times — but when you get hit like that, there's nothing you can do. There's no way you can protect yourself," he said. "Those are things that hopefully (the NHL) pays more attention to."

NHL senior vice president Colin Campbell, who has the authority to discipline players for blindside hits, offered this response to the Tribune-Review via e-mail: "We look into everything and put every effort into being consistent."

The blindside/head shot subject sparked a rule change late last season after Penguins left wing Matt Cooke's open-ice hit on Boston center Marc Savard. Savard suffered a concussion that forced him to miss two months, including a first-round playoff series. Cooke, considered a multiple headshot offender by the league, was not suspended.

Lingering effects sidelined Savard this season until Dec. 2. After Cooke's hit on Savard, Crosby was one of many Penguins calling for players to show more responsibility for an opponent's safety.

Regarding Steckel's hit on him late in the second period of last Saturday's Winter Classic, Crosby said it was "really tough to decide whether he meant to or didn't mean to" hit him in the head from behind.

"I felt like he could have got out of the way or avoid me. Whether he tried to hurt me, only he knows," he said. "You still have to be responsible out there.

"In that situation, I don't see anything — he sees me there, he sees the whole ice and he doesn't avoid me, so I don't think that's responsible on his part. ... He's got to be the one to try avoid me in that situation."

Crosby was diagnosed with a concussion Thursday night in Pittsburgh after leaving Montreal that afternoon on a charter flight with Cooke, who rushed home to deal with a family illness.

Coach Dan Bylsma said Crosby was injured Wednesday in a blowout home win over Tampa Bay. Crosby played only six shifts after Hedman hit him from behind into the boards late in the second period.

"(After the) Winter Classic game, he had neck symptoms. He did not have concussion symptoms after the Tampa Bay game," Bylsma said. "(Crosby) was not feeling right, and per our doctor's orders, if he woke up (Thursday) morning and felt the same way, he would need to get evaluated."

NHL players are required to take baseline neurological examinations that monitor normal brain function. Before Thursday night, his last baseline test was two years ago, Crosby said.

Bylsma initially said Crosby probably would miss a week. He backed off that timetable yesterday.

"Until he's symptom-free," Bylsma said, "we won't be moving forward."

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