No Sidney Crosby, No Problem: Penguins Shouldn't Rush the Kid Back vs. Islanders

Steve SilvermanFeatured ColumnistMay 1, 2013

There's no need to rush Sidney Crosby back into the lineup.
There's no need to rush Sidney Crosby back into the lineup.Vincent Pugliese/Getty Images

The Pittsburgh Penguins sent a message in Game 1 of their playoff series with the New York Islanders.

The message came in the form of a 5-0 victory. However, it was not delivered to the eighth-seeded Islanders.

The message was sent to Penguins superstar Sidney Crosby. "Take your time and don't rush back. We don't need you to put yourself at risk against these guys."

Crosby (56 points in 36 games) is practicing and wants to play. But he doesn't need to play against the Islanders. New York is in way over its head in this series.

Crosby broke his jaw in a regular-season game against these same Islanders when a deflected slap shot hit him in the head March 30. Crosby has been out ever since.

There has never been any indication that the shot also resulted in a concussion, but he has been out more than a month after the puck also knocked out several of his lower teeth.

It is clear that both Crosby and the Penguins are being careful.

That's the right course to take. The Penguins dominated the Eastern Conference this year and easily won the top seed. The Penguins may not face a serious challenge until they get to the Stanley Cup Final when they meet the Presidents' Trophy-winning Chicago Blackhawks.

That's the matchup that should be expected, but it may not be quite so easy. The Penguins are probably better than any team they will face on their side of the playoff bracket, but that doesn't mean they won't have some trouble.

They will need Crosby back in the lineup by the second round, but they don't need him against the Islanders.

There's little doubt that New York achieved far more than anyone expected as it returned to the playoffs for the first time since 2007. However, the Islanders don't have any secondary scoring to back up John Tavares, Matt Moulson and Michael Grabner. That's not going to get it done against Pittsburgh.

Tavares did not even register a shot on goal in Game 1 against the Penguins. Pittsburgh's defense shut him down without much trouble.

While Penguins fans were disappointed at not seeing Crosby in the lineup and then watching James Neal leave the game with an injury, they had to be thrilled with Marc-Andre Fleury's 26-save shutout of the Islanders.

Last year, the Penguins and Fleury got embarrassed by the Philadelphia Flyers in the first round of the playoffs. The Penguins defense was abysmal.

They had tightened that area up considerably during the regular season, and they did not expect a defensive letdown against the Islanders. Still, picking up a shutout was the ideal result for Penguins head coach Dan Bylsma.

The Penguins got two goals from Pascal Dupuis and single tallies from Beau Bennett, Tanner Glass and Kris Letang.

Jarome Iginla had two assists, but he did not put the puck in the back of the net. That will come shortly.

The Penguins have more than enough offense to win this series, and the defense is dramatically better than it was a year ago.

There's no reason to rush the best player in hockey back into the lineup.

Let Crosby play when he's fully healthy.

But not a minute before then.