The Pittsburgh Penguins are falling apart.
- They're losers of six straight games.
- They've fallen out of playoff position, something that's unthinkable for a team that won the Stanley Cup just three seasons ago.
- Top defenseman Kris Letang has been out for some time with a concussion.
- Jordan Staal is out with a knee injury.
- And of course, Sidney Crosby is still out with what certainly seems like a second concussion -- at best, he's suffering from lingering concussion-like symptoms.
Things are bad, and they don't seem to be getting better any time soon. That's turning Penguins fans against each other and in some cases, against their team and their star player. Dean Kovacevic of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review wrote about these issues in a Friday column.
It's preposterous to even type such a thing, but sadly -- and stupidly -- there are people accusing Crosby of skipping out on playing, both in the public and in the Penguins' locker room. Ray Shero actually felt the need to address it Thursday, saying, "This is a player that's not medically cleared to play."
It's one thing for fans to be doing such things, but wait, did he say in the Penguins' locker room?! Yes, he did.
A few, certainly not all, of Crosby's teammates are of the mind that he's been symptom-free for a while, though they have no medical basis for that. Some think he should be playing. Some simply think he should be doing more to communicate, or at least be as visible as concussed defenseman Kris Letang.
Last week in Pittsburgh, according to three sources, a group of players held a 45-minute meeting to discuss a temporary captaincy. Another source disputed that any such meeting occurred.
It's an odd situation for everybody, and it's only exacerbated by the recent struggles the team has gone through. Think about it: They've had injuries before in Pittsburgh -- even last season, when both Crosby and Evgeni Malkin simultaneously missed a prolonged stretch of time -- but they've always been able to fight through it. In fact, last year in the face of injuries, the Pens actually seemed to get stronger.
But now, for essentially the first time since coach Dan Bylsma has been behind the bench, it doesn't seem like things are going to get better. It doesn't seem like Crosby will be back anytime soon. Who knows when Letang gets back. It doesn't seem like there's good news on the horizon, and the symbolism of falling below that eighth spot in the conference is extremely strong.
If Kovacevic's sources are right, the team doesn't know how to handle it. Suggesting that they find a temporary captain is again more symbolism, but knowledge that some players have been questioning his health is just downright embarrassing.
It doesn't take a rocket scientist to realize that Crosby wants nothing more than to play hockey with his teammates, and for those guys on the inside -- people actually on the team -- to be questioning things shows a real lack of leadership somewhere in the organization.
It all comes down to communication. When Crosby returned from his concussion in November, the hype was absolutely off the charts. He scored four points, the Penguins were winning games, all seemed right in the world. Then, suddenly, a few games later, he took a hard hit and went back on the shelf.
Bylsma told us it wasn't that serious and that he'd only miss a few games as a precaution, because they wanted to be sure he was going to be alright. He's their Ferrari, after all. You don't take the Ferrari out on the highway unless it's in tip-top shape.
A few days passed. Crosby missed practice. And more games. Then, his day-to-day status was changed to questionable. A few more days passed. Radio silence from the team. Crosby placed on injured reserve. More silence. He's still out, he still has symptoms.
That's all we've known for the better part of the last month. No information has been shared on how exactly Crosby suffered his latest setback, if it's even a setback or another concussion, how serious it really is, what his day-to-day routine is at this point, his interaction with the team. Nothing. We don't really have a clue, other than he's "suffering from some symptoms." What the hell does that even mean?
Sidney Crosby himself hasn't spoken to the public since December 12, although it's reported that he will speak with the media on Friday. It might not seem necessary that he talk himself or that we even get routine updates. Jeremy Roenick said on television back in early November that he was sick of hearing the non-update-updates, and a lot of people may have agreed with him.
But at least when we're getting those updates, nothing is left to speculation. It's one thing if those of us on the outside are clueless and that leads to speculation, but it's becoming obvious that the lack of information on Sidney Crosby's status has spread into the Penguins dressing room.
Players themselves are speculating, too, and it's taking away from solving the immediate problems that face the team: How can you get back into the playoff picture if you're too busy holding team meetings on who should get a letter temporarily sewn onto their chest?