Pittsburgh hockey media’s witch hunt on Alex Ovechkin is dangerous – SB Nation

It didn’t take long for the hockey world to have a varying degree of hot takes on Sidney Crosby’s Game 3 injury. The response was swift, loud, and extremely colored by whatever fan base-colored glasses you tend to wear.

This is sports, after all. It’s to be expected from fans, especially in such a high-pressure, high-anxiety time that is the Stanley Cup playoffs.

What’s been absolutely out of left field, however, is the response from Pittsburgh media. Two pieces in particular have made their way across the internet over the last few days, the second more incredulous, and more dangerous, than the first. I’m linking them here for the sake of journalistic integrity in sourcing your information. One of the first rules of journalism school, kids. Don’t forget it.

Before I go on, let’s talk about the facts of one Alex Ovechkin in this series:

  • He has four points in three games so far.
  • He’s still deadly from the left circle.
  • His shot in the third period of Game 2 hit Ron Hainsey in the head. The defenseman returned to the Penguins lineup in Game 3.
  • His slash to the top of Crosby’s head started the fall which eventually lead to his injury.

Now that we have you caught up, let’s flash back to the aftermath of Game 2.

Hainsey took an Ovechkin shot to the side of the head as the clock was winding down in the third period. The shot injured Hainsey, potentially splitting his ear and causing quite the stir on the ice.

Unfortunate as it is, it’s quite routine for defensemen to get nicked and bruised and even injured when blocking shots. Why they willingly put their bodies in front of speeding projectiles is beyond me, but that’s why they’re being paid to play hockey and not me.

Even still, quotes surfaced after the game that some Penguins in the room weren’t pleased with Ovechkin’s choice of shot, via DK Pittsburgh Sports.

[Hainsey] indicated following the game that his helmet absorbed the majority of the blow and that he believed he would be OK.

One got the sense from a couple of Penguins after the game that they believed Ovechkin, while not necessarily acting with intent, was pretty careless regarding how he fired the puck in Hainsey’s direction.

While DKPS got ripped for suggesting malice on Ovechkin’s part, writer Josh Yohe clarified that he was reporting on the feeling in the room. Good on him.

That didn’t stop a Pittsburgh-based ESPN radio host, however, from insinuating the very same thing.

Flash-forward to Game 3, where Ovechkin played a part in Crosby’s injury. We’ll show you a clip here, as there are a lot of moving parts around this.

Ovechkin initiated contact with Crosby as the Pittsburgh center was heading to the crease, getting a slash in around the arm then to the top of the head. The pair’s skates also collided, sending Crosby into an awkward downward slide that sent him right into the path of Matt Niskanen’s stick as the Capitals defenseman was seemingly going for a shoulder cross-check.

We know how that play ended, with Crosby going to the locker room, Niskanen ejected, and Ovechkin back on the ice to resume play. While many argued over Niskanen’s major penalty and whether it was deserved, it’s hard to say if Ovechkin would have gotten one, but a pair of slashes likely warranted it.

Then, after the game, this little chestnut showed up on Twitter.

I won’t rehash that whole article here, but one quote stands out in particular to me.

Makes you wonder what that closed-door meeting called by Capitals players was really about after their blowout defeat in Game 2, huh?

Not really.

Writer Rob Rossi, formerly of the Tribune-Review, currently of Upgruv, and a member of the Professional Hockey Writers’ Association, wrote those words insinuating Ovechkin and the Capitals had it out for Crosby.

The piece reads in much of the same way, but the meat of this takedown is the posturing that Ovechkin specifically planned to take out Crosby to give the Capitals a better chance of winning this series.

Don’t believe me? Here’s his next line.

If they say it wasn’t about eliminating Crosby, the Capitals are liars. And if that sounds like an unfair accusation to make of the Capitals, then please consider my decade of experience covering a sport I love and a league I really, really, really want to give the benefit of the doubt.

I’ll let you have a minute get over the fact that a paid writer wrote those words with seemingly complete sincerity. After all, it’s hard to distinguish someone’s tone from words alone. Good thing Rossi was on video twice on Monday talking aboutand to — Capitals head coach Barry Trotz.

Now then, the pieces lie where they are. A reporter with locker room access to a team insinuated the captain of the Washington Capitals orchestrated a takedown on Sidney Crosby, without evidence no less. Not only is this bad journalism, it’s inflammatory and downright dangerous to do so without anything other than opinion to back it up.

Opinions are fine and good, but to come after a star NHL player in a piece that seems to be written with serious intent without some proof of insider knowledge of what happened in the locker room is setting a horrible standard.

Other prominent Pittsburgh media members also had various takes on the entire situation.

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette writer and radio host Joe Starkey spent nearly 700 words on Tuesday morning outlining Ovechkin’s past transgressions against the Penguins, casting doubt at every turn that these incidents from almost 10 years ago were no mere accident.

But the real outlaw here is Ovechkin — and there is a long history between Engine No. 8 and the Penguins. A long history of odd and unusual plays where you scratch your head and ask, “Wait a second, was he trying to maim somebody?” Ovechkin seems to have mastered the art of the reckless play that may or may not have been intentional and leaves everybody wondering what the blank just happened.

To my way of thinking, you make enough of those plays against the same team, and you lose the benefit of the doubt.

You’re never quite sure with Ovechkin.

If there’s one thing that Rossi’s and Starkey’s Ovechkin pieces does well, it’s getting people to talk. And talk they did. However, at what point do we step back from our hot takes? Are we really adding anything to the conversation if we’re just writing incendiary things we may not even believe to get clicks?

It’s also hard to take Pittsburgh media’s outrage seriously when they’ve stood idly by as the team employed players such as Matt Cooke in the past. That Cooke, who put into motion the NHL’s stance on headshots with this career ending one to Marc Savard.

A glowing piece on Cooke’s changed character from Rossi can be found in the archives of the Pittsburgh Tribune. Our own Penguins blog wrote quite the rebuttal back in 2011. It’s a great read on the situation.

Fast-forward to March 2017, where Tom Sestito spent a minute of ice time fighting and being ejected for a late hit on Jets defenseman Toby Enstrom. Our site seemed like one of the few outlets questioning that whole scene, along with the Altoona Mirror’s piece echoing the disappointment. Only radio silence and news hits on Sestito’s disagreements with his four game suspension came from Pittsburgh.

Nothing was written either on Sestito’s reckless play in his first game back from suspension that injured Toronto goaltender Frederick Anderson.

That’s not even diving into the players’ reactions to Crosby’s injury. Chris Kunitz called Niskanen’s hit “deliberate”. Former player Tyler Kennedy offered truth about the PR behind Niskanen’s “it wasn’t intentional” statement, but seemed to imply a falseness to the words. Head coach Mike Sullivan, rationally, opted for the the no-comment route.

This is a story that will no doubt drag on through the series, and maybe even the playoffs. It’s a downright shame that Crosby was injured, especially given his concussion history and what that’s robbed us of as fans of this sport.

Yet this vendetta the Pittsburgh hockey media holds against Ovechkin is a journalism farce. Insinuating maliciousness from an opposing player while not holding their own accountable is disrespectful, dangerous, and irresponsible as members of the media.

The outrage cycle over Ovechkin and Crosby may churn in Pittsburgh media for awhile. Just remember the inconsistencies and disingenuous clamoring they’ve made in the past.