Monday, February 05, 2007

Congratulations to Montreal Canadians thug Aaron Downey for illustrating why the National Hockey League's in better shape than it was before the lockout.

A little-used offensive liability who skates like George Bush orates, Downey took it upon himself to call out rising phenom Sidney Crosby after the latter went down following an unpenalized high-stick in Sunday's Pittsburgh-Montreal tilt. Of course, Downey did it from the safety of his own bench.

Crosby said Downey told him he shouldn't have ended up on the ice.

"He told me not to go down," Crosby said. "I said, 'If you get a stick in the face we'll see how tough you are. See if you don't go down.' It's funny, you get a high stick and you're not supposed to go down anymore."

For his part, Downey didn't do himself any favours in the postgame interviews.

"Agitating is part of my game," Downey grunted. "I told him that if you're going to be a superstar in this league, you shouldn't be acting like that."

It's a part of his game? It's all he's got.

Downey's crowning achievement to this point in his hockey career is twice topping the 400-minute mark in penalties in the American Hockey League. As for the NHL, he's racked up a staggering 13 points in 180 career games, which might explain his coaches' tendency to have him watch from somewhere high above the ice.

Whether Francis Boullion meant to whack Crosby in the face is questionable, and even unlikely, but it's tough not to think some of the Canadians weren't deliberately trying to injure the young star, especially after Thursday. In that game, Montreal's Maxim Laperriere butt-ended Crosby on the opening face off. Canadians head coach Guy Carbonneau, who should be above such skullduggery, sent out his meathead line to open the game and is squarely responsible for that incident.

The Canadians were apparently agitated by Pittsburgh's Colby Armstrong's hit on their captain, Saku Koivu. Never mind that it happened after Boullion speared Crosby, and that it was a completely clean hit. Montreal handled it well enough to give the Penguins a seven-minute power play. Smart boys, those Canadians.

The fans and many players have also pointed to Crosby's admitted tendency to complain to the refs about missed calls and his willingness to hit the rink when touched. However, it's difficult to fault him for dramatizing a tad when these two blatant penalties were greeted with a turned head.

Much of the discussion in the aftermath seems to be centering around why the Penguins haven't picked up a thug of their own to protect their kids. But the changes to the NHL's style of play -- less hooking and holding, more speed -- make reserving a roster spot for some menacing lummox a waste of space.

Those shifts have made no-tool Neanderthals such as Downey a vanishing breed in NHL arenas, and it's no big loss.

You'd also have to think at some point the league will take a look at a few of these incidents and decide, "You know, allowing one of our meal tickets to be manhandled like a blow-up doll at a shore leave party probably isn't a very good idea, is it?"

Besides, the Penguins are riding a 10-game point streak, sit sixth in the Eastern Conference and are leaps and bounds better than they were last season. Who'd fool with that chemistry?

Of course, it would also mean Pittsburgh would have to go out and actually try to sign an idiot in the same vein as Downey.

Who'd want some moron like that hanging around?

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