On the Fly: Sorry Pittsburgh, Niskanen's cross-check wasn't dirty or intentional
We're convening an emergency session of "On the Fly" after the cross-check seen across the hockey world Monday in Pittsburgh, where Sidney Crosby was forced from Game 3 after taking Matt Niskanen's stick to his head. Our takes on whether it was clean or dirty, and whether there was intent to injure, are below.
Josh Wegman: There was zero intent to injure on Alex Ovechkin or Matt Niskanen's part. Crosby had an excellent scoring chance, so Ovechkin intended to give him a whack on the hands to prevent it. He was willing to take a two-minute slashing penalty to do so. It's part of hockey. I've been slashed harder in men's league. It's just unfortunate that Crosby turned his body into Ovechkin to shield the puck as he was about to be slashed.
As for Niskanen, he was simply protecting himself. Crosby came flying into him, and it's the natural human reaction to raise your hands and shield yourself. Anyone who's played hockey knows this. In fact, Niskanen barely even raised his hands. Crosby was already falling down when he crashed into Niskanen's stick. If he was really trying to injure him, it would have been a much more deliberate cross-check in which his stick was cocked back and then shoved forward.
It's a shame the league's best player was hurt, but the NHL got it right by not dishing out a suspension to Ovechkin or Niskanen.
(Photo courtesy: Getty Images)
Navin Vaswani: The only premeditated act on the play was Ovechkin's two-handed slash to Crosby's right arm. In fact, Crosby was slashed so significantly that Ovechkin's stick bounced off 87's arm, off Ovechkin's shoulder pad, and then whacked Crosby on the back of his helmet. No penalty, of course, #BecauseItsTheCup.
Ray Ferraro knows what's up:
More than Niskanen cross-checking Crosby, Crosby collided with - most unfortunately - Niskanen's stick. The defender saw a player about to collide with him, and his natural instinct was to get his hands up and protect himself. He happened to be holding a hockey stick at the time.
The game's way too fast for Niskanen to have thought, "Hey, here comes Crosby with a low center of gravity. He's going to skate right into me. If I get my stick up and cross-check him in the head, it won't look like it was on purpose, and Crosby will be done for the game, and maybe the series. Everybody wins!"
Come on. You can't actually believe that.
I get Penguins' fans' anger and concern. It's natural. Of course the Capitals are targeting Crosby - every team targets Crosby. But it's absurd to say they intentionally took out the best player in the world, who has a history of head injuries, with a deliberate headshot.
If you want to be mad, be mad about the slash, and the fact the game is policed entirely differently in the postseason.
(Photo courtesy: Action Images)
Ian McLaren: Hockey is better when Crosby is playing it.
We can debate and argue until we're blue in the face as to whether Niskanen intended to injure the Penguins captain with a cross-check to the head early in Game 3, or whether Ovechkin purposefully initiated the ugly incident with the ugly two-handed slash to Crosby that preceded it. The NHL's powers that be ultimately have the final say, and have ruled Niskanen's major penalty and game misconduct as sufficient punishment, while Ovechkin's stick work will go unchecked outside of the court of public opinion.
From a discipline point of view, then, the incident is in the past.
What we do know is that Crosby - who remains the game's best player - will miss Game 4, but what's yet to be determined is whether he'll be able to suit up at some point beyond, and if the ugliness that erupted in Game 3 will spill over and sully what should be the most competitive series of the postseason.
If so, hockey loses, even while one of these teams prevails.
Craig Hagerman: The fact Crosby went down with an injury is certainly a huge blow to not only the Penguins, but the sport. However, claiming Niskanen and Ovechkin purposefully targeted Crosby is ridiculous.
Lost in most of the discussion regarding the play is how fast everything happened. It's hard to plan to injure someone like that in a half-second, but very easy to argue the contrary while looking at slow-motion replays. Niskanen was certainly attempting to be physical on Crosby - that's his job - but when Crosby was knocked off the puck by Ovechkin, he came into Niskanen in an unfortunate position, and we all know what happened next.
As for the Ovechkin slash, that was a backchecking player trying to stop the most dangerous goal-scorer from doing his job. Once again lost in discussion of the Ovechkin slash is the way Crosby pivots his body at the last moment. You can see Ovechkin's stick go for Crosby's stick and then ride up when Crosby pivots - that's when Ovechkin knows he's not going to get Crosby's stick, but, again, it all happens in a split second.
It's an unfortunate play, but there's little merit in suggesting there was intent to injure