Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Top 5 Injuries in Penguins History

The title pretty much says it all. So here we go with the list that will make any Pens fan squirm:

1) Mario Lemieux's back (1989 - forever) - Mario went through more physical challenges than any athlete should have to over the course of his career, but it was almost always his bad back that stepped in to sideline his march to greatness. Thanks to Mario's wonky back hockey fans are left with a laundry list of questions instead of a resume of records. How many of Gretzky's records could Mario have broken? How long could Mario's point streak during the '89-'90 season have lasted before his back took him out of a Valentine's Day game against the Rangers, ending the second longest points streak in NHL history at 46 games? How many more Cups could he have led the Pens to? How many 200 point seasons could he have had? We'll never know. All we can do is wonder what could have been if the greatest offensive talent the NHL has ever seen had not been cut down in his prime by a bad back.

2) Ron Francis' broken left foot (1996 Playoffs) - Blocking a shot that in the grand scheme of things was meaningless sabotaged the Penguins last real shot at claiming a third Stanley Cup. After battling by the Washington Capitals in the first round of the playoffs, the Penguins obliterated the New York Rangers in the second round. Unfortunately, in the second period of the series clinching game 5 against the Rangers, Ron Francis broke his left foot and had to miss the Conference Finals against the Florida Panthers. The loss of Francis cost the Penguins the center of their top line and arguably the best line ever assembled. Francis, Jagr, and Lemieux combined for 158 goals and 429 points during the regular season as the trio claimed 3 of the top 4 spots on the NHL's scoring list that season, but without Francis for the Panthers series the Penguins lineup was in disarray. The seven game series against Florida was so close that there is no logical argument to be made that the Pens don't get past Florida with Francis, setting up what could have been one of the best Stanley Cup Finals ever. Seeing the high powered Pens take on the Sakic/Forsberg/Roy led Colorado Avalanche would have been hockey heaven. Unfortunately the NHL's fans were left with a lackluster 4 game Avalanche sweep. All thanks to one broken foot.

3) Kevin Stevens' broken face (1993 Playoffs) - Game 7 against the New York Islanders in 1993 is painful for Penguins fans for a lot of reasons. The Islanders put an abrupt and premature end to the Pens dynasty that night in the Igloo. It's hard to argue that the most painful part of that game was watching Kevin Stevens splatter his face all over the ice after a big hit on Rich Pilon. The hit was and still is hard to watch and Stevens was never the same afterwards. He managed to put up a strong year during the '93-'94 season, but he was traded during the offseason and never came close to regaining the level of play his showed before the injury. The injury essentially transformed Kevin Stevens from the best power forward in hockey to a guy smoking crack with hookers in a cheap motel. The downward spiral that was Kevin Stevens' life for quite a few years all started with that hit on Pilon in Game 7.

4) Rick Tocchet's broken jaw ('91-'92 season) - Finally a positive addition to the list. Shortly after being acquired by the Penguins, Rick Tocchet got his face in the way of a Mario Lemieux slapshot during the first period of a game in Chicago and broke his jaw. It wasn't pretty, but Rick Tocchet was never about pretty. In a move that you would never see in today's NHL, Tocchet returned to the game and scored a pair of goals, including the game winner, against a promising Blackhawks goalie named Dominik Hasek. Tocchet later downplayed the achievement by saying ,"We were .500 at the time, you want to play and you want to try to win. It's amazing when you have adrenaline. The next day I was obviously in pain, but during the game you just don't think about it." Long before Tocchet was scoring clutch Game 7 goals against the Islanders and getting busted for gambling, he was showing Penguins fans what it really meant to be a hockey player.

5) Sidney Crosby's broken left foot ('06-'07 season) - During a March 16th home game against Montreal Sidney Crosby, in true Penguins fashion, broke a bone in his left foot blocking a shot. The break was not serious to keep Crosby out of the Penguin lineup as they were pushing for the playoffs and a possible division title so Sid the Kid played on. In fact, the injury was not even made public until after the Pens had been eliminated from the playoffs about six weeks later. While playing on a broken foot, all Crosby managed to do was lead the Penguins to the playoffs for the first time in years and become the youngest scoring champion in NHL history (he was in fact the youngest scoring champion ever for any major North American sports league). Crosby didn't let his injury slow him down in the playoffs either as he was probably the Penguins best player in their series against Ottawa not named Marc-Andre Fleury. After the Pens were ousted by the Senators the Crosby disclosed his broken foot and effectively shut up all the people trying to call him soft. It's hard to criticize a guy when he has a broken foot and is still the best player in the NHL.

Honorable Mentions:

  • Mario Lemieux's broken hand (1992 Playoffs) - This is why no Pens fan will ever forgive or forget Adam Graves. But Ronnie and Jaromir put the team on their backs while Mario was out and the Pens still won the Cup. So in hindsight the broken hand wasn't that big of a deal.
  • Mario Lemieux's Hodgkin's disease ('92-'93 season) - Not really an injury, but Mario's battle with cancer derailed his assault on the single-season scoring record and essentially ruined the '93-'94 season for the big guy. Still, it raised awareness about Hodgkin's and led to the formation of the Mario Lemieux Foundation, so there is a bright side to the story.
  • Tom Barrasso' chicken pox ('92-'93 season) - Once again, not really an injury, but it cost Tommy 10 games that year. Considering how good the Penguins were that year, it's not out of the question to think that Tommy starts 9 of those games and wins at least 7 of them, making him the first and only 50 game winner in NHL history.
  • Evgeni Malkin's dislocated shoulder ('06-'07 season) - This one has to be on here somewhere. Not only did this injury delay the inevitable Malkin-mania, but it was also surely a factor in the Pens ridding themselves of the services of one John LeClair, and for that alone this injury was totally worth it!


Jason said...

good article, but you forgot to note that were it not for Malkin's injury, we don't see Staal light it up the way he did...

jar66su said...

you also forgot Barasso's marital-related incident