Originally posted on Bleed Black & Gold  |  Last updated 12/13/11
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During a media session yesterday, Sidney Crosby announced he wouldn’t be playing hockey again any time soon as the concussion like symptoms that kept him out of hockey for 10 months dating back to last January returned after taking a shot to the head against Boston last week.  Crosby had sat out the next two games after he “didn’t feel right” following the loss to the Bruins and the Penguins have decided to again be cautious by sitting Crosby out indefinately. 

The doctors that have monitored Crosby’s return from the intial injury informed Crosby and Penguins’ leadership that he passed the impact test that they use to determine if a concussion had occured.  So what that essentially means is that the doctors are taking Crosby’s word that something isn’t right.  I most certainly don’t doubt that Crosby isn’t 100% if he says he isn’t, and while I’m sure the Penguins support this decision to sit Crosby out, I can’t help but to wonder if this is actually a physical problem for Sid or a mental one.  After missing so much time, it has to be sitting in the back of his mind that he could be one hit away from starting again at square one so I can’t blame him for being a little apprehensive after getting shaken up a little bit.  My main concern, beyond his physical well-being of course, is that Crosby will not be able to recover mentally after getting his bell rung a little bit.  I’m worried that after any time he has a headache or anything like that he is going to default to sitting out because of that fear of the long road to recovery once again.

Now, don’t twist what I am saying here.  I am 100% in favor of being cautious with head injuries.  There is more to life than sports.  I’m merely presenting the question here of if bumps and bruises that every NHL player sustains over the course of a career will be enough to trigger a fearful response in Crosby which leads him to missing more time.  As someone that grew up playing sports and sustaining a few severe injuries, I can atest that you recover physically faster than you do mentally.  It’s just human nature that after you sustain a serious injury that you subconciously think to yourself that ‘I probably shouldn’t do that again’ and when you find yourself in a similar position to what you were in when the injury occured, you are apprehensive or retreat.  In many cases, that mental block goes away with time, but sometimes, it sticks with you until it gets to the point that contact that you wouldn’t have even thought twice about in the past causes you to seek medical treatment.  Then, even if the doctors say it’s all clear, you still sit out because you don’t feel right. 

It is a frustrating situation to say the least for both the fans and the Penguins organization, but imagine what Crosby is going through. He worked hard to return from the initial concussion and now twice in the last two season he was putting up monster numbers just to be sidelined with a head injury.  You could see it on his face during the interview that he is more disappointed with the turn of events than anyone else could be, so you have to feel for the guy.  We are all hoping for a speedy recover for the Pens superstar captain, but in the mean time, the rest of the Penguins still have to play some hockey.

The Pens have enjoyed a lot of regular season success over the last calander year even without so many key players in the lineup.  It doesn’t seem to matter who takes their turn on the injured list, they always find a way to rise up and step up to the challenge.  Before Crosby initally came back last month, the Pens were still battling it out for the top spot in the Eastern Conference, so I would suspect that trend will continue moving forward.  Although, it won’t be an easy task with the way the Bruins, Flyers and Rangers are playing.  All three of those teams have really come in strong recently, especially the Bruins as they didn’t have a single regulation loss in November.

If the Pens plan on competing for that top spot, then the continued all-star level of play by James Neal, Evgeni Malkin, and Jordan Staal must continue.  The offense really has revolved around those three playing at such a high level.  Granted, others have contributed offensively in a big way too, like Dupuis, Kunitz and Sullivan, but their chances are going to dwindle a little without Crosby in the line up.  Perhaps more critical than anything else though if the Penguins are going to compete at a high level, is the play of their defense and 3rd/4th lines.  The depth the Penguins have is unrivaled in the NHL right now, and the way the 3rd and 4th lines have stepped up this year has been nothing short of amazing.  It seems that no matter who fills the holes caused by injury, they are ready to come up and comtribute to the team’s overall success.  Players like Vitale, Adams and Park (now out with a broken foot) have been key role players on both ends of the ice this years.

As for the defense, they have fallen off since Michalek’s thumb injury.  That’s especially true for Paul Martin.  It is crucial that they get back to the level they were at the beginning of the year if Pens are going to stay in the hunt for first in the Atlantic Division.  They are a talented group and have one of the better netminders in the NHL anchoring them so the foundation is there for them to be a dominating defensive group once again.

This team is designed to be successful if it is missing any one, two or even three of it’s important pieces, so I’m not too concerned about their ability to wins games moving forward.  However, if they plan reclaiming the cup once again, then it is important that they get healthy for the long haul because knocking off the NHL’s top teams is difficult enough at full strength.

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