Hey, everyone. It’s Dan Mount and I’m here with the Monday… well… Monday plus one or Tuesday NHL headlines. Today looks at the complex situation arising out of Saturday’s fracas between the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Boston Bruins. The aftermath of that game resulted in a slew of injuries, penalties and suspensions. I’ll try the best I can to break it down and give a fair assessment of the events.
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Last Saturday’s game between the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Boston Bruins was supposed to be a possible Eastern Conference finals preview. The game had playoff intensity to it and looked like it would live up to the hype. However, things got ugly in a hurry and the eventual outcome saw Brooks Orpik being taken off on a stretcher after taking a punch while he was on the ice.
Thornton was ejected and has an in-person hearing with NHL disciplinarian Brendan Shanahan on Friday. Thornton did apologize for his actions and said he felt “awful” about it. However, it does not excuse what he did (or the fans making excuses for either.)
It really is a complicated situation. Let’s try to sum up things as best we can. (I asked some of my Facebook friends to help reconstruct what happened.) First, the tension got ratcheted up when Orpik gave a high hit to Boston winger Loui Ericksson. (The hit has been argued for its legality.) The check resulted in a concussion to Ericksson. The hit per se may not have been dirty, but it should’ve probably been interference because Ericksson did not have possession or make contact with the puck.
The hit immediately drew reactions from the B’s captain Zdeno Chara as he was called for cross-checking, but the mayhem doesn’t end there. There were a few missed calls and a particularly vile incident happened when the Pens James Neal knees Brad Marchand in the head. (Neal got suspended five games for the incident.)
A scrum ensued and that’s when things got turned up to 11. Thornton wanted to fight Orpik, but the Pens player wanted no part of it. Thornton then slew-footed (tripped) Orpik and punched him on the head while he was laying on the ice. Here is the footage from the website Deadspin.
The anarchy did not stop after Orpik was taken off of a stretcher as Boston’s Chris Kelly took a slash to the ankle from Pascal Dupuis. This leaves a very big mess for Shanahan to try and clean up.
Let’s first take what things are certain.
Shawn Thornton deserves to be punished. There are no two ways around it. He really screwed up. You do not punch a guy in the head while he’s down on the ice. If Orpik had chosen to throw down, anything you do upright would’ve been OK. Once he didn’t want to engage, he should’ve backed off. Chirping at him would’ve been fine or putting a hard hit on him later would’ve been acceptable. Get your revenge within the rules of the game. Former NHL official Paul Stewart said that Thornton "went after the wrong guy" in going after Orpik. Stewart said that if anyone should’ve gotten retribution, it should’ve been Neal for his knee to the head of Marchand.
The refs really screwed up. There were several chances that the officials could’ve taken control of the game. Former NHL lead official and current TSN analyst Kerry Fraser did a great piece that placed blame on a lot of people, but gave some warranted criticism for the officials. Fraser said the refs could’ve given 10-minute misconduct penalties to both teams to try and “douse the flames.” He said the officials should’ve stopped it before it got to the flashpoint.
Some things in the culture need to change. I’ll make this in two points. Stewart brought up the fact that the high hit on Ericksson that started it all was clean and he would not have called it a penalty. I understand the need to protect your teammate, but that was a legal hit according to most experts. If they really wanted revenge, square up and drop them and Orpik would pretty much have no choice, but to square off.
The other point I want to make is it seems that there is no respect for your fellow player. I know that fans and players talk about "The Code" like it is some sort of unwritten rulebook. However, I thought players wanted to look out for each other. You wouldn’t somebody to put you into the hospital like Thornton did to Orpik. It could’ve been a lot worse.
What should be done about this? I think that many agree that Thornton should be condemned for his actions like CBS Boston’s Matt Kalman did. If I’m Thornton or the NHLPA, I do not appeal the suspension. I know the association wants to protect its members, but who’s protecting Orpik? I’m not the biggest fan of a guy like Orpik because he’s a pest and an agitator. However, Orpik could be a lot worse off if the refs didn’t step in.
Well… that’s my take on the situation. I’d love to hear from you on this. I’ll see you Friday with more hockey.
Dan Mount is an NHL and college football writer for TJRSports.com. He is based out of Watertown, NY.