PITTSBURGH - Sidney Crosby's honeymoon lasted nine years, and that's impressive. A lot of marriages don't make it that long.
But now for the first time there's dissatisfaction with Crosby among some Penguins fans. (This rightfully ignores the irrational loons who maintained he shouldn't have missed so many games with concussion issues).
The fifth straight postseason failure has cost Ray Shero's job and will probably wind up claiming up Dan Byslma, too. Crosby isn't going anywhere, but he's come away from it with his first scars.
The criticism is not without merit. Crosby didn't produce in the playoffs, and that's only part of the story. For the first time in his career, he looked like he was distracted and functioning at less than his usual intensity.
Crosby has said repeatedly there was no secret injury issue that hampered him. At this point, you almost hope he was hiding something. Because otherwise he looked like a guy whose focus was on hitting the reset button for a suddenly dysfunctional organization.
Snapping at Bylsma on the bench may not have been that big a deal, but it's something that hadn't happened before and speaks to Crosby's state of mind. Crosby wasn't very captain-like, and no sport takes that designation more seriously than hockey does. What example is set when the captain cuts shifts short and sits on the bench looking bewildered, like he's waiting for Marcel Goc to suddenly fix what's wrong?
Crosby has been so PR-perfect in his time here that it always seemed like a savvy 45-year-old was inhabiting his body. He endures two waves of questions after every game, taking TV cameras first and everyone else thereafter.
He finds a way to answer dumb questions without insulting the person who asked. He never throws teammates under the bus, even when they've played terribly.
In so many ways he resembles Wayne Gretzky, who came to pro hockey with the same street-smart degree in media relations and almost otherworldly sense of responsibility. Crosby was also possessed by the same hockey obsession that gripped Gretzky. The game seemed to be his only interest in life.
Maybe Crosby was just wiped out by the hangover from the Olympics. Maybe there was an injury. Whatever happened, Penguins fans finally saw a different side of Crosby, and it wasn't appealing.
The reconciliation process should be interesting. But he'll be in the same position Marc-Andre Fleury was this year - nothing really matters until the playoffs.
Beyond the timely hits and great catches, Josh Harrison has given the Pirates a Red Bull-like jolt of energy.
But that's temporary. Now it's up to the everyday players to take that spark and make it something bigger.
Mehno can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org