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The NHL lost its way in suspending Hjalmarsson and Wisniewski

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Leave it to the NHL to drum up controversy without even really trying. Today, the NHL handed out two-game suspensions to both James Wisniewski and Niklas Hjalmarsson for on-ice incidents. Of course, what lead to them getting suspended are two entirely different matters entirely. Hjalmarsson was suspended for his hit from behind on Sabres forward Jason Pominville, meanwhile Wisniewski was suspended an obscene gesture directed towards Rangers pest Sean Avery.

One action a completely boneheaded play on the ice with no regard for one’s opponent, the other a completely boneheaded action meant to insult an opponent, both yielding the same punishment. Some feel that Wisniewski was dealt with too harshly, as Chris Botta of NHL Fanhouse does comparing his action to that of Chicago’s Nick Boynton who got a one game suspension for a throat-slash gesture.

No, he didn’t think. That’s why, as unseemly as the moment was, he deserves a pass. For those few seconds in the heat of battle against one of the game’s most notorious characters, James Wisniewski might have thought he was playing against the rest of the 15-year-olds at 6:00 am in Michigan. He might have forgotten that he wasn’t knocking the puck around with his buddies on the available ice at midnight. Wisniewski lost his way, but it was only because his intensity blurred the thought of where he was.

Forgetting where you are doesn’t excuse doing something like that in full view of the viewing public. There is no workplace or professional sports league that tolerates anything like that. The fact that he gets suspended for it is harsh, for sure, but this is a league that set the precedent that they’re going to be family-friendly come hell or high water.

How else do you explain Wisniewski’s nemesis Avery getting sat down ultimately for six games for being a nasty gossip about his old girlfriend to the media? You can’t explain it, so even trying to wrap your head around the process will only make you insane. TSN’s Bob McKenzie has made the case that there’s a distinct difference between what Avery did in Calgary years ago to what Wisniewski did on the ice yesterday and there is a difference, but the end result as far as the NHL is concerned is the same thing. Acting out that way is bad for business and makes everyone else look bad. Hey there’s a reason why guys like Avery or Wisniewski don’t get mic’ed up for national broadcasts.

Meanwhile in Chicago, ESPN’s Jesse Rogers says the punishment for Hjalmarsson fits the crime.

The bottom line is, Hjalmarsson hit Pominville in the numbers. Specifically, in the number 9 on his 29 jersey. Pominville didn’t make a dramatic turn of his back at the last minute to make it worse and you can’t blame him for the way he fell. The hit was from behind enough to warrant a suspension, considering the way Pominville hit the glass. How a player falls plays a part, whether it’s in the rulebook or not.

If Pominville had fallen into another player or simply hit the boards without his head hitting the glass, who knows what the outcome would have been. But hit a guy from behind, or close to it, and you better expect the worst to occur.

Spot on analysis from Rogers and it alludes to something we said earlier regarding this situation. The point being that the act is being punished and not the end result. You hit a guy when they’re not looking and you’re going to get yourself in trouble because you’re endangering your fellow man.

What’s bothersome here is how these two distinctly different actions managed to bring about the same punishment. A very public PR faux pas gets the same treatment as a dangerous hit from behind. How is this even remotely possible? The NHL has been focused on keeping a good face for the public. They’ve cracked down on fighting to the point now where a huge brawl is a rarity and fortunately for them most of the players are able to keep their noses clean and aren’t getting into trouble in embarrassing ways. Saving face for the public while not doing much to consistently punish those on the ice that cause problems for other players is maddening and nonsensical.

The league needs to start looking at things like this: Is it more important for the league to crack down on guys who are bad in front of the camera or do their part to keep everyone on the ice protected. At some point protecting the fans’ delicate sensibilities has to take a back seat to protecting their own players. Something has to give and perhaps taking NHL disciplinarian Colin Campbell out of the smoky room and give everyone a standard to follow would do everyone a world of good.

Washington is ‘basically destroying everyone right now’

NEW YORK, NY - JANUARY 07:  Alex Ovechkin #8 of the Washington Capitals (c) celebrates his goal at 15:45 of the first period against the New York Islanders and is joined by Nicklas Backstrom #19 (l) and T.J. Oshie #77 (r)at the Barclays Center on January 7, 2016 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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Ottawa head coach Guy Boucher didn’t mince words analyzing tonight’s opponent, the visiting Washington Capitals.

“They’re basically destroying everyone right now,” Boucher said on Tuesday morning, per TSN 1200.

And, well, he’s right.

With Monday’s 6-1 blowout of Carolina, the Caps extended their consecutive points streak to 14 games — the second-longest in franchise history. Washington is 12-0-2 during the streak and has scored at least four goals in eight consecutive games, and one of those losses came in overtime of a thrilling 8-7 tilt against the Penguins.

The streak looks even better in graph form:

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Unsurprisingly, the Caps have dotted the NHL’s weekly three stars announcements throughout January. Braden Holtby earned third star honors back on the 9th, Nicklas Backstrom netted first star on the 16th and, yesterday, T.J. Oshie scored third star of the week.

Those awards underscore the story in Washington — everybody is contributing across, the board.

Like last night, when Dmitry Orlov‘s rare two-goal effort helped the Caps past the ‘Canes. Or the game prior, when Matt Niskanen‘s three-assist performance pushed Washington over Dallas.

The Caps are a dangerous club at the moment. Even the players are willing to acknowledge it.

“We got all four lines rolling and with our depth and our ability when every line’s going, we’re tough to stop,” Oshie said, per ESPN. “Things are going well right now.”

Poor goaltending, lack of finish to blame for Kings’ latest loss

Los Angeles Kings goalie Jeff Zatkoff, left, looks at New York Rangers' Mats Zuccarello after Zuccarellos scored a goal during the third period of an NHL hockey game Monday, Jan. 23, 2017, in New York. The Rangers won 3-2. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)
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It was the story of the Los Angeles Kings’ season last night in New York:

— Lots of shots, but not enough goals.

— Not many shots against, but too many goals allowed.

The Kings fell 3-2 to Henrik Lundqvist and the Rangers despite winning the shot clock by a huge margin: 38-17.

“I think we had a lot of opportunities. You’ve got to finish,” said head coach Darryl Sutter, per LA Kings Insider. “At the end of the day, we need better goaltending in there.”

Jeff Zatkoff was between the pipes for the Kings. His record fell to 2-7-1 with an .881 save percentage. So expect to see Peter Budaj tonight in New Jersey, and probably Thursday in Carolina, too.

The Kings (22-21-4) have lost four straight and sit three points back of Calgary for the second wild-card spot. The Flames also lost last night, and so did the team immediately below the Kings, the Winnipeg Jets. That was the good news for Sutter’s crew.

But with Jonathan Quick not expected back until March, it’ll be up to Budaj and Zatkoff to give the Kings the goaltending they need to get back into a playoff spot. And that’s a big ask for two guys who’ve played more AHL games than NHL games over the last few years.

As far as the offense is concerned, the Kings badly need more from Anze Kopitar, who only has four goals in 41 games. After all, Tyler Toffoli (lower-body injury) did not make the trip, and Jeff Carter can’t be asked to score every night. Carter (25 goals) and Tanner Pearson (14) are the only Kings with double-digit goal totals.

“We probably out-chanced them, what, five-to-one tonight? It’s the percentages,” said Sutter. “So the percentages are that you score on a percentage of those chances. The other team’s scoring on not-percentage chances, put it that way.”

 

No hearings scheduled after wild Flames-Leafs game

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None of the combatants from Monday’s incident-filled Toronto-Calgary game will face disciplinary hearings, an NHL spokesman confirmed this morning.

The two sides combined for 16 minor penalties across a nasty, chippy affair that included:

— Leafs forward Leo Komarov catching Johnny Gaudreau with a huge bodycheck.

— Flames captain Mark Gioradano quickly jumping Komarov in retaliation.

— A pair of Calgary youngsters, Sam Bennett and Matthew Tkachuk, accused of slew-footing.

The incident that drew the most attention was Komarov’s hit on Gaudreau. The diminutive Calgary winger looked to be in trouble after the check — requiring assistance off the ice — but went through concussion protocol and was cleared to return a short while after.

Komarov’s hit was deemed legal, and he didn’t receive a penalty on the play.

“I feel fine,” Gaudreau told the Calgary Herald following the game. “It’s part of hockey, you’re going to get hit every once in a while and with the concussion-test stuff, they want to make sure you’re alright.

“So I had to go in there and do that, and it was fine.”

 

 

NHL on NBCSN: Pens look to push winning streak to five games against slumping Blues

PITTSBURGH, PA - MARCH 24:  Sidney Crosby #87 of the Pittsburgh Penguins skates during the game against the St. Louis Blues at Consol Energy Center on March 24, 2015 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
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NBCSN will continue its coverage of the 2016-17 campaign tonight when the Pittsburgh Penguins host the St. Louis Blues at 7:00 p.m. ET. If you want to watch the game online, you can do so here.

Things are going well for the Penguins right now. They’ve rattled off four straight wins over Washington, Montreal, Carolina and Boston and in each of those victories, they managed to score at least four goals.

Everyone knows Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Phil Kessel and Kris Letang have been terrific when healthy, but others, like Conor Sheary, Bryan Rust and Justin Schultz have also been key contributors for their team.

Sheary in particular had a terrific week, as he was named the NHL’s First Star for his performance last week. The 24-year-old has played a good chunk of the season on a line with Crosby, and he’s already up to 17 goals and 17 assists in 39 games in 2016-17.

“It’s going better than I expected at this point,” Sheary said, per the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “I think it’s a mixture of a lot of things, the way we’re playing as a team and the way our line’s playing. I think it’s just been clicking right now. These streaks usually don’t last, so I’m just going to enjoy it while it’s here.”

Sheary managed to put up six goals and three assists in just four contests last week, and on Sunday, the line of Crosby, Rust and Sheary combined to score nine points in a 5-1 win over the Bruins.

“I think his game is just growing by the day,” head coach Mike Sullivan said. “He obviously has some nice chemistry with the line he’s on right now. He’s got pretty good chemistry with Sid in particular. That line has been really good for us. I think his confidence might be at an all-time high, which is helping him.”

If the Penguins are riding high, the Blues are on the other end of the spectrum.

Scoring hasn’t been an issue for them. They’ve scored three goals or more in four of their last five contests, but keeping the puck out of their net has been the big problem.

St. Louis comes into this game having dropped three games in a row. Although goaltending hasn’t been their only issue, Jake Allen‘s struggles are a big reason why they’ve been slumping of late.

“I take a lot of blame, I deserve it, no excuses,” the Blues goalie said, per the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “I have no problem with taking the heat. You get more of the brunt of it as a goalie, the last line of defense, but in this situation I have no problem with it. I should be the backbone of this team and I haven’t been. A lot of it falls on my shoulders, letting the guys down in many situations, not giving them a chance to win.”

After Allen allowed four goals on 10 shots in a loss to Washington, the team decided he needed to stay behind while they traveled to Winnipeg (they lost 5-3 with Pheonix Copley in net) and Pittsburgh.

Tonight, the Blues will start Carter Hutton, but they’ll go back to Allen for Thursday’s game against Minnesota before they head off for the All-Star break.