Too little, too late for NHL rule changes

Savard.jpgThis is obviously the biggest story of the week and when all is said
and done the 2009-10 NHL season will go down as the “year of the head
shot”.

What is most frustrating about the entire situation is the
fact that the victim of the latest dirty hit — and there’s no doubt in
my mind it was dirty, I don’t care what the NHL says — is at home and
is still suffering from some significant concussion symptoms.

At
least there were some steps taken in the right direction this week with
the GM’s proposing a rule change that would make hits like Matt Cooke’s
illegal. What’s most disturbing however is the fact that all hits to the
head will still not be penalized — but you have to wonder just how far
the NHL can go down that path.

There’s no doubt that the NHL is
an extremely fast and physical league and that hits to the head will
happen, and not all of them are dirty hits. Sometimes accidents happen
and player are going to get seriously hurt, no matter what the NHL does.

But
the point here isn’t to just blindly outlaw all high hits; we’re
talking about protecting NHL players from the ones that have no regard
for their opponents on the ice. It’s ice hockey, I realize that the
point of the game is not only score but to punish the players on the
other team with brutal checks along the boards and in open ice. My point
is that there exists a middle ground where the league can protect
players from serious injury while maintaining the physicality that makes
the sport so much fun.

Marc Savard will most likely not return to
the ice this season. He’s sleeping most of the day, and it’s going to
take him a long time to recover from such a severe concussion. I’m not
someone who believes that the offending players should be suspended for
as long as the victim is injured — there are just too many variables  involved — but the fact that Matt Cooke escaped without punishment is a
travesty.

The NHL is facing a PR nightmare over this incident but
the sad truth there is nothing they could do about this latest hit.
Technically, Cooke’s hit was legal in the eyes of the NHL and the fact
that Mike Richards was not suspended for a similar hit earlier in the
season handcuffed the NHL on what they could do.

So now we have
the league being reactionary instead of proactive when it comes to the
safety of the players, and it’s making the NHL appear even more middling
than they were before. This is a league that has struggled with
mainstream success ever since the lockout five years ago and these incidents do nothing but set the NHL back from whatever progress
they may have made.

There is an irrational fear that supporters of
stricter rules and punishments — like myself — want to turn the NHL
into a sport that is “un-manly” or “wimpy” and abandons the physicality
that sets it apart from all others. That’s not anywhere close to being
the case; in fact, I loved good physical lockdown hockey where goals were
at a premium and there wasn’t a penalty called every 4 minutes for
touching an opponent with your stick.

The issue at hand is the
safety of the players. The cold reality is that players are faster,
bigger and carry more power than ever before and you can’t deny the
increased amount of serious head injuries is alarming.

The NHL is
on the right track, but we shouldn’t have had to wait for one of the
NHL’s best players to be sitting at home with a severe concussion before
anything was done about it.

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    ‘Like a 1988 Smythe Division game’ – Caps, Pens react to wild 8-7 game

    WASHINGTON, DC - NOVEMBER 16: Dmitry Orlov #9 of the Washington Capitals collides into Brian Dumoulin #8 of the Pittsburgh Penguins after scoring a goal during the second period at Verizon Center on November 16, 2016 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
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    It’s no surprise that Justin Williams, a player who earned the clutch nickname of “Mr. Game 7,” provided the money quote for the Pittsburgh Penguins’ wild 8-7 overtime win against the Washington Capitals.

    “It snowballed too quickly for us,” Williams said, according to Caps’ website Dump n Chase. “All around, it was like a 1988 Smythe Division game out there, not something we want to do.”

    Penguins-turned-Capitals defenseman Matt Niskanen also echoed one of the points from the game’s recap, stating that the contest had “four of five turning points.”

    You could probably spend hours pouring through all the oddball stats that sprouted up from this game.

    While Williams and Niskanen provided some of the better quotes, most of the players were reduced to using the same word that, frankly, most of us were rolling out.

    (Aside from those of us who were spouting expletives at perceived missed calls, particularly on the losing end.)

    In admitting that he couldn’t explain the second period, Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan probably described the entire game most accurately:

    Either way, it was a lot of fun. Let’s do this in the playoffs, too, shall we?

    /scans online for a budget defibrillator.

    Video evidence that Mike Smith isn’t tanking

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    The Arizona Coyotes are really bad, but you could argue that Mike Smith is why the Colorado Avalanche owns the NHL’s worst record instead.

    He came into tonight’s eventual 3-1 loss to the Edmonton Oilers with a sparkling .918 save percentage, and while he couldn’t save the Coyotes, he did rob of Jordan Eberle on what seemed like a sure goal.

    Watch that great save in the video above, and maybe wonder if Smith didn’t get the memo about the whole “tanking” thing.

    Penguins out-gun Capitals in absurd, controversial 8-7 OT thriller

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    Leave it to number 87 to win an 8-7 hockey game.

    Evgeni Malkin grabbed a hat trick during that patently absurd second period, yet it was Sidney Crosby who helped to create the overtime game-winner (credited to Conor Sheary) as the Pittsburgh Penguins edged the Washington Capitals on Monday night.

    No doubt about it, there was some controversy, including on that clinching goal. And not just because the tally survived the review process:

    MORE: Watch the full overtime here. Check this post out for additional information on that zany second period.

    Regardless, the Penguins’ three-game losing streak ends (as does Washington’s nine-game winning run). The Caps at least got a standings point out of the deal, which seems pretty fair when you consider the fact that they scored a touchdown and extra point’s worth of goals in this one.

    (Yes, there were NFL jokes on Twitter.)

    Malkin’s hat trick goal and Crosby’s fourth point both demanded official reviews, but both also stood. Capitals fans are probably upset with this game, especially since you could make a legitimate argument that T.J. Oshie should’ve drawn … you, know, at least one penalty:

    Instead, you could argue that Patric Hornqvist‘s hit on Oshie ended up being a turning point of the game in Pittsburgh’s favor, although you could also argue that even M. Night Shyamalan couldn’t keep up with all of the twists.

    Roberto Luongo captured the mood of the three goalies involved (Braden Holtby got the hook after allowing five goals over a zany 8:09 span) and likely the coaches, too:

    To recap, Malkin had that hat trick, Crosby scored a goal and three assists and Sheary generated a three-point night (two goals, one assist). Trevor Daley generated three assists while Justin Schultz did it one better with four.

    Oshie collected a goal and two assists, Lars Eller generated two big goals and Alex Ovechkin chipped in two helpers of his own.

    The goalie stats, were, well … (see that Luongo tweet).

    ***

    Overall, it was a messy, unpredictable, staggering and sometimes controversial game.

    Normally, one might say that this is just what you’d expect from a Capitals – Penguins contest. Can anyone really argue they expected this explosion, though?

    Do yourself a favor and watch the highlights, as there were so many exciting moments and goals that it’s difficult to summarize them all in one recap. Heck, if you just watch the highlights of the night for Crosby and Malkin, you’re likely to be highly entertained.

    If we’re treated to another contest between these teams in 2016-17, it will be in the playoffs. Plenty of hockey fans would love to see that, at least if their hearts can take it.

    Just about everything happened in second period of Capitals – Penguins

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    Update: The game only slightly slowed down after the second period, as the Penguins ultimately edged the Capitals 8-7 in overtime. Read all about it here.

    This post goes into greater detail about the second period, which is worthwhile … because it was a brain-full.

    ***

    Let’s just take a second to step back and rub our eyes in disbelief at this Washington Capitals – Pittsburgh Penguins game, particularly the just-passed second period.

    Basically everything is happening.

    Evgeni Malkin is now at 21 goals on the season as he generated a hat trick in the middle frame. That third goal will be highly – and understandably – contested thanks to possible goalie interference by Patric Hornqvist.

    At his best, Hornqvist is in the thick of things, and that was certainly the case on Monday. Granted, this hit on T.J. Oshie was questionable:

    Braden Holtby was chased from the Capitals net after the Penguins reeled off five goals in 8:09, which you can view here:

    The Capitals brought a 2-0 lead into the second period and fattened it to 3-0. After that, the Penguins built a 5-3 lead with the flurry from above.

    Brett Connolly made it 5-4 just 30 seconds after Malkin’s second goal, while Lars Eller tied it up at 5-5 about two minutes later.

    That tie lasted … less than 30 seconds, as Malkin’s third tally made it 6-5 for the Penguins.

    There’s a bunch of other stuff that happened, too, probably.

    /catches breath

    You can watch the rest of the game on NBCSN, online or via the NBC Sports App. Here’s the livestream link.