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NHL’s new concussion protocol goes into effect tonight and what that means from here on out

During this week’s GM meetings in Florida we’ve been keeping tabs on what the NHL is looking to do to help remedy the rash of concussions and head injuries in the league. Gary Bettman proposed a five point plan for teams to do their part to help treat players during the game and potentially save them the trouble of being injured further when no symptoms are apparent.

Today we learn from Yahoo’s Nick Cotsonika (via Predators GM David Poile) that the new treatment protocol will go into effect beginning with tonight’s games across the league. That means if a player has suffered an apparent concussion or head injury they must go back to the locker room and be treated by a doctor to see if they have, indeed, suffered a concussion.

It’s a forward step for the league in trying to do something about an issue that’s been plaguing the league for various different reasons the last few seasons. Without a doubt the speed of the game is causing problems and there’s not much the league can do about that without relaxing the rules on obstruction and threatening the return of the dead puck era.

The one thing they can control is the medical treatment side of things and that’s what they’ve zeroed in on. Being more efficient with such matters would help. After all, we saw both Ian Laperriere and Marc Savard return relatively quickly during the playoffs from brutal concussions. Savard suffered his hit in March and returned for the Bruins series against Philadelphia. He admitted after the season was over that he may have come back too soon.

Laperriere was struck in the face with a slap shot during the Flyers opening round series against New Jersey yet still found a way to return to action in the Stanley Cup final. Laperriere also admitted to coming back too soon and won’t play at all this season thanks to lingering post-concussion syndrome effects.

Of course, if the NHL wants things to be taken serious they need to be firm about what they’re doing. So many of the NHL’s new rules and regulations are often enforced right away and for a year or two and then seemingly forgotten about. The Dallas Morning News’ Mike Heika wrote a scathing piece today reminding us about how the league can let things slip away in the wake of making a big stand (subscription required). Brad Richards in particular comes into focus after dealing with a concussion suffered thanks to a Sami Pahlsson elbow.

And that is at the heart of Richards’ issue right now. If you and I can readily see a replay of an incident that should not be in hockey, then why isn’t something being done about it? Richards’ experience is personal, and it can come off as whining a bit because really nobody did a thing about it. He was hit in the jaw by an elbow on what appeared to be an innocuous play at the end of a game. Richards understands that officials wouldn’t have seen it. He understands that “things happen.”

What he doesn’t understand is how the man who threw that elbow — Columbus center Sami Pahlsson — didn’t at least get a memo from the league complete with a video of the incident sent to his I-phone saying it was wrong. There are rules against those kinds of hits. So …. shouldn’t something have been done about it?

Now, there are penalties missed in every game. There’s no way to call games at top speed and expect to get everything right. But we’re not worried about the outcome of a game here, we’re worried about the health of a league. To understand Richards’ situation, you have to understand where he has been for the past month.

Richards is right and the NHL can be better in handling these things. They can certainly be better about handling punishment and keeping things shrouded in secrecy does no one any favors. Of course, the league seems to always operate in secrecy in hopes that sometimes things will resolve themselves and go away.

In 2003 the NHL was going to take a major stand on diving and punish those busted for diving in games. Similar hot button topic decrees have come and gone by the wayside. We’ve seen obstruction find its way back into the game now since the lockout after seeing it called repeatedly for the two years following that. Being cynical about how the NHL is handling this issue is warranted as they’ve never really shown the ability to hold strong to such matters in the past. Don’t get us started about the NHL’s ability to punish players in a manner that makes sense.

On the positive side of things, if the NHL can adapt to this and make it work it’s a win over the long haul. There’s going to be bumps in the road to start and there’s surely going to be further controversy. Just wait until a star player has to sit out a crucial point of the game for 15 minutes while he’s treated and examined further and the head coach seethes over not being able to have him on the ice. Hopefully that won’t happen and players will be able to avoid more problems, but with how things have gone this season don’t bet on it.

Sam Bennett on healthy scratch: ‘I don’t want to be in that position again’

CALGARY, AB - OCTOBER 18: Sam Bennett #93 of the Calgary Flames in action against the Buffalo Sabres during an NHL game at Scotiabank Saddledome on October 18, 2016 in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. (Photo by Derek Leung/Getty Images)
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With four of their top-five scorers this season age 23 or younger, the Calgary Flames have a solid foundation of young core players in place when it comes to building a playoff contending team (and right now, they would be in the playoffs). Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan, Matthew Tkachuk and Dougie Hamilton, all part of that young core, and have all been significant contributors to their playoff push this season.

One of their young players that has struggled a bit this season, and especially recently, has been 20-year-old forward Sam Bennett.

On Thursday night he even found himself as a healthy scratch for the team’s 4-3 loss to the Nashville Predators as a result of those recent struggles.

With only 18 points (nine goals, nine assists), a 46 percent Corsi percentage, and only 1.6 shots on goal per game this season it has been a bit of a disappointing season for the 2014 No. 4 overall pick. Especially after he showed so much promise during the 2015 playoffs and a year ago in what was his first full season in the league.

On Friday, Bennett talked about the experience of having to watch from the press box, calling it “really tough.”

“Watching wasn’t fun,” Bennett said, via Kristen Odland of the Calgary Herald. “Everything about (Thursday) wasn’t fun. I don’t want to be in that position again. I want to do everything I can to stay in the lineup.”

The decision to sit Bennett came after a particularly difficult stretch for him that saw him go 10 consecutive games without recording a single point and only 13 shots on goals while playing less than 15 minutes in three of the games. He is expected to draw back into the lineup for Saturday’s Battle of Alberta game against the Edmonton Oilers.

As tough as the experience likely was for Bennett it’s still something that can be beneficial for a young player going through the type of slump he has gone through because it gives a perspective they might not get from being on the ice.

The Flames enter Saturday’s game against Edmonton occupying the second wild card spot in the Western Conference, one point ahead of the Vancouver Canucks.

Scott Darling may have earned himself some extra playing time

CHICAGO, IL - APRIL 05: Scott Darling #33 of the Chicago Blackhawks follows the action against the Arizona Coyotes at the United Center on April 5, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois. The Blackhawks defeated the Coyotes 6-2. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
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When the Chicago Blackhawks’ run of three Stanley Cups in six seasons started back in the 2009-10 season, goaltending was pretty consistently their biggest question mark over the first three or four years of that run. Today, as the Blackhawks continue to sit near the top of the Western Conference standings, it might be one of their greatest strengths.

At this point it is not just because of Corey Crawford‘s development into one of the league’s best, most consistent starters.

They are also getting excellent play from his backup, Scott Darling, and it continued on Friday night when he received the start against the Boston Bruins — only his second start in January — and responded with a 30-save shutout.

Darling’s play has improved significantly this season in the Blackhawks’ net, and after Friday’s game he is carrying a .928 save percentage in his 21 appearances this season, including a pair of shutouts.

Together the duo has the fourth best overall save percentage in the NHL (.920) and the second best even-strength save percentage (.937), trailing only the Washington Capitals.

It is a positive development for both the Blackhawks and Darling himself.

From a Blackhawks perspective, his play has given them a reliable backup that was not only able to successfully fill in for Crawford when he missed nearly a month due to an appendectomy earlier this season, but it has also made it so they can potentially manage his minutes a little more and keep him fresh for the playoffs without having to run him into the ground during the regular season. With Crawford going through a bit of a slump recently, allowing it least three goals in eight of his past 11 starts, it might even leave the door open for Darling to get another start on Saturday night against the Vancouver Canucks.

When asked about that possibility after Friday’s game coach Joel Quenneville would only say, “Their play a lot of time makes our decision for us.”

Of course, we probably should not make too much of this. Crawford is still going to be the guy in Chicago, and even though he has hit a bit of a rough patch lately he is still one of the top goalies in the league and you have to think he will eventually work his way out this recent funk. It’s just that Darling might be worthy of getting an additional start or two at the moment until that happens.

For Darling, it has been a big season as he plays through the final year of his contract and will be eligible for unrestricted free agency after this season. Looking at the UFA market for goalies, you have Ryan Miller, who will be 36 years old and not really represent much of a long-term solution for anybody, and Ben Bishop and Steve Mason, who are both going through disappointing seasons. After that it is a bunch of a question marks. If Darling can continue to take advantage of the opportunities he gets in Chicago the way he has so far this season, he might end up earning himself an even bigger one in the summer.

Video: Julien won’t discuss job security with Bruins

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The job security of Boston Bruins coach Claude Julien remains a hot topic of discussion, particularly these past few days and that isn’t likely to change following Friday’s defeat to the Chicago Blackhawks.

Despite carrying the play, especially through the first two periods, the Bruins were unable to score and were shut out once again, losing the game on a goal from Marian Hossa with 1:26 remaining in regulation. For the Bruins, that’s a heartbreaker.

It seems Julien’s job in Boston is always up for discussion during at least some point in a season, but the chatter now seems especially bleak, even if one could find plenty of faults with Boston’s roster, which falls on management.

Addressing reporters after Friday’s loss, Julien liked how his team played versus the Blackhawks, but admitted there are “growing pains” and there were costly mistakes made at points in the game.

When asked about job security, Julien didn’t wish to discuss the subject.

“I’m not into shock journalism,” he said, “so I’ll stay away from that question if you don’t mind.”

Major victory: Habs power play erupts to defeat Devils

OTTAWA, CANADA - OCTOBER 15: Shea Weber #6 of the Montreal Canadiens fires a slapshot during an NHL game at Canadian Tire Centre on October 15, 2016 in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.  (Photo by Francois Laplante/Freestyle Photography/Getty Images)
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NEWARK, N.J. (AP) The toughest thing Montreal Canadiens goalie Al Montoya had to do against the New Jersey Devils was stay awake.

The Canadiens limited the Devils to a season-low 17 shots, and Shea Weber and Max Pacioretty each scored a power-play goal during a major penalty early in the third period of Montreal’s 3-1 victory Friday night.

“I’d take this any night,” Montoya said after the Canadiens snapped a two-game skid. “Your team is playing fantastic in front of you. Halfway through the game it’s 1-1 and all I’m really focused on is making that next save. These guys did a phenomenal job and I just wanted to make that next save, and the power play was terrific. The guys were mainly terrific all night.”

Alex Galchenyuk added a goal and two assists, and Alexander Radulov had three assists as Montreal ended the Devils’ three-game winning streak.

The difference in this one was the power play. The Canadiens were 3 for 7 with the extra man and they converted twice with Devils defenseman Karl Stollery in the box for a boarding major.

The call was iffy. Stollery hit Canadiens defenseman Nathan Beaulieu in the corner in the Devils end, but the question was whether it was a major or minor penalty.

“It happened quick,” Stollery said. “The guy is coming in and I am going in to finish the play and he turns up. I probably would like to let up a little bit more if it happened again. It’s one of those things that happens quick.”

Devils coach John Hynes screamed at the officials.

“All I got was they felt it was a dangerous hit,” Hynes said. “At that point they are not going to explain it too much. They were defensive. They made the call. It is what it is. At that point we have to try to find a way to kill it better than we did.”

The first two minutes of the major were played 4-on-4, but the Canadiens capitalized after that.

Weber scored his 11th of the season on a drive from the blue line at 3:01 that was set up by Radulov. Pacioretty got his 21st at 4:23 with a shot that deflected off the skate of Devils forward Adam Henrique.

“It was huge,” Weber said. “Obviously, special teams mean so much coming down the stretch and heading into playoffs, so trying to get some chemistry going and help the team win games, it’s obviously a big thing.”

Rookie defenseman Steven Santini gave the Devils an early 1-0 lead, but the Canadiens dominated after that, firing 26 shots at Keith Kinkaid.

Montoya had nothing to do for long stretches. New Jersey was held without a shot for more than 12 minutes after Santini scored, and it needed 13 minutes to get one in the second period.

Santini put New Jersey ahead when he flipped a shot from just inside the blue line that floated into the top corner of the net.

Galchenyuk tied the game 74 seconds later with a shot from the left circle with Devils forward Miles Wood in the penalty box for slashing. The tally came 28 seconds after the penalty and on Montreal’s first shot with the man advantage.