Since October 2007, the Pittsburgh Penguins have played 281 games. In the course of everything that could happen over such a long stretch, Winging it in Motown has spotlighted five specific plays to ask: are the Penguins a dirty team? A question they never answer, by the way. Perhaps it's not a coincidence but three of the incidents spotlighted are against the Detroit Red Wings, and all three of them were in playoff games where tempers run high and shots rarely go unanswered or unprovoked by previous moments in a game.
Three of their transgressors-- Sidney Crosby, Maxime Talbot and Chris Kunitz -- hardly have a league-wide reputation for being guys to take advantage of people.
Crosby's loudest whiners will point to a number of his actions, and to be sure Sidney Crosby is no saint. He's a hyper-competitive 20-22 year old hockey player over this stretch and he takes a lot of abuse and snaps back as much as he can. No one here will deify Crosby's every motion; but consider that since the start of the 2007-08 season, Crosby's played over 5,273 minutes. Sure he's had a couple of inexcusable moments and has gotten caught up in the moment a time or two, but you'd be hard pressed not to give it context in the events of the specific game and not have to.
Chris Kunitz did have a dirty shot on Washington goalie Simeon Varlamov in last season's playoffs, Gary Roberts probably didn't need to punch Johan Franzen in the head and Matt Cooke is a sideshow unto himself when he has a "Matt Cooke moment", but does that brand the Penguins a "dirty" team?
Behind the jump, let's look at how the mega penalties the Pens' have taken compares league wide, and why the body of their entire work doesn't look so bad as a few flashy plays that standout in people's minds....
The Penguins do have 10 misconducts this year (tied for 24th in the league), they have 2 game misconducts (18 teams have as many or more) and 0 match penalties on the season. In 2008-09 the Penguins were also in the top half of the league in terms of not having the mega penalties: misconducts, game misconducts and match penalties.
Are the Penguins a dirty team? Aside from Matt Cooke, I'd say the answer is no. Are the Penguins a hard-nosed team that will hit, check and toe the line during the course of every game? I'd say that yes, clearly they are, and that's a big reason why they go deep into the playoffs and are contenders for the Stanley Cup three years in a row.
Show me a soft team that doesn't fight back and won't try to slash and check on occasion through the zone, and I'll show you a team that won't last long in the grind of the post-season. No NHL team has their hands totally clean, and Pittsburgh is no different. It's not a team full of choir boys and saints, every athlete that makes the NHL is among the elite of their generation and pre-disposed to be aggressive and try to make it as hard on the opposition as possible.
It's easy to highlight a couple of big moments that stick out, I don't even think Winging it in Motown got even half of the Penguins least greatest hits, but given that they've played 281 games in the past 30 months and it wouldn't be hard to build a rap-sheet on anyone. Again, there's no excuse for any NHL team that plays 17,000+ minutes (since October 2007), of course they'll have some not so proud moments.
Perhaps the question shouldn't be "are the Penguins a dirty team", but rather "are the Penguins a hyper-competitive team that toes the line and perhaps has as many ugly moments as anyone else". I'd think that's a lot more fair.