Talk is cheap.
Most of the time.
Actually, almost all the time.
But not in this instance, not when it comes to what Penguins captain Sidney Crosby said last Thursday just after his team was embarrassed, 4-1, by the Carolina Hurricanes.
After the game — the second of two consecutive losses — Crosby said to Root Sports, among other things: “Every team we play against knows what to expect from us, and they’re willing to compete. We’ve basically been outworked the last two games, and there’s no excuse for that.”
Remember, this loss came on the heels of an effort in Florida in which the Penguins were, by all accounts, also outworked in a 6-4 loss to the Panthers. Certainly goaltender Tomas Vokoun could have played better against the Panthers, but many others also showed an effort below the acceptable bar. The defense in front of Vokoun did him no favors in that loss.
So, just as Crosby left the ice in Carolina, with a trip to Montreal still looming on the three-game road trip with bad losses unable to be shaken from his mind, Crosby knew it was time to speak up.
And he did.
He put his teammates on blast.
Not full-bore, all-out blast, not an all-out detonation.
No, he did it with sharpness and a firm nature, yet with a subtlety where he didn’t name names, didn’t embarrass any one teammate more than the others.
Make no mistake, however, when an athlete uses the word “outwork” — or any variance of the term — their teammates know exactly the message that’s being sent.
In short, the 25-year-old captain saw an opportunity to carry out a duty prescribed by that capital ‘C’ sewn into his sweater and carried it out perfectly. What Crosby said to the assembled media was not just perfect in its delivery, but has been perfect in execution since.
After he spoke those words, the Penguins have gone on to win two games — one in Montreal, another at home against Tampa — heading into Thursday’s game in Philadelphia.
Another layer to this is that Crosby isn’t some Ryan Clark-type or Joey Porter-type character, not the kind of locker room voice who speaks again and again and again … and then some more.
He picks his spots, thus, making the instances when he does speak up resonate all that louder.
Some will draw a direct line, connect some dots that these Penguins have rebounded — or at least won the Tampa game — since superstar Evgeni Malkin returned from a concussion, as he scored a goal showered in glory against the Lightning.
That much is true. Malkin’s return definitely has had something of an impact to the Penguins.
But my thought is that the words Crosby spoke in a gloomy Carolina postgame also have had a gigantic influence.
Here’s something that might just be the biggest component in all of this: It’s one thing to talk, one thing to call people out and make hollow claims. Indeed it’s quite another to do that in concert with picking up your own level of play. In that Carolina game, Crosby was a minus-2; in the Florida loss just prior, the captain had two assists but failed to generate the type of offense we’ve grown accustomed to seeing from that first line.
Since he spoke up? Since he called his team out?
In the win at Montreal, Crosby pretty much put the Penguins on his back at times in a 7-6, overtime victory, scoring once and notching two assists on five shots. Then against Tampa, he had another multi-point night, with a goal and an assist.
Both nights, he has whipped around the ice with a noticeable pep that wasn’t as noticeable in Carolina.
Simply put, it’s one thing to point fingers at everyone but forget about pointing at yourself — Crosby, in this instance, called out the entire changing room.
Talk is cheap many, many times.
The proof is in the last two Penguins games.
Former Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Sports Writer Colin Dunlap is the featured columnist at CBSPittsburgh.com. He can also be heard weeknights from 10p-2a on Sports Radio 93-7 “The Fan.” You can e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.