Joe Thornton challenged Ryan Kesler to a fight during opening faceoff of Game 1


During the 2009 playoffs, I was lucky enough to watch Game 6 of the Anaheim Ducks-San Jose Sharks first round series with Battle of California‘s Earl Sleek. It didn’t take long for that game to provide a lasting memory, either. In a truly rare sight, Joe Thornton started a fight with Ryan Getzlaf right after the puck was dropped for the first time.

The Ducks ended up winning 4-1 to close out the Sharks in that series, but it was still pretty stunning to watch two big-name (and over-sized) centers drop the gloves like that. Maybe it was an expression of Thornton’s frustrations from a hard-luck series, but it showed (to me at least) that he wasn’t just gliding through defeat.

While that moment remains a statistical anomaly, it seems like Thornton might just enjoy starting big games with a little tussle. You may have noticed that Thornton was thrown out of the faceoff circle to start his team’s Game 1 match against the Vancouver Canucks. Apparently Thornton wasn’t kicked out of the circle for typical infractions alone; the large center admitted that he challenged Vancouver Canucks center Ryan Kesler to fight during that opening draw.

Unlike Getzlaf, Kesler decided not to fight Thornton, though.*

“Why not?” Thornton said Tuesday, confirming he made the invitation to Kesler. “Let’s fight. Let’s start the series off with a bang.”

The Sharks ended up losing 3-2 in Game 1, but Thornton was able to start off the game pretty well nonetheless. As you may remember, he jumped on an atrocious Roberto Luongo pass to make it 1-0 early in the first period. Sure, it wasn’t enough to win the game, but Jumbo Joe was clearly keyed in to start off that contest.

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During his days with the Boston Bruins, Thornton was a player who entered the penalty box almost as often as he lit up the scoreboard. It’s possible that the Sharks asked him to tone things down a bit, with the simple logic that they’d rather have their best player on the ice rather than in the box.

In previous years, much of the frustration with Thornton’s (mostly overblown) playoff struggles probably came from his body language and perceived lack of assertiveness. I think a lot of his improved play stems from some lucky bounces (just look at that goal video), but there’s a sense that he’s imposing his will much more. This story adds another layer to that building perception.

So it’s clear Thornton is getting excited for the playoffs, especially to start games. Yet the question remains: will Thornton and the Sharks show that same fight to close out the Canucks in future games?

* To be fair to Kesler, Thornton is much larger than him. Thornton and Getzlaf are much more comparable, size-wise.

In Jets return, Burmistrov delivers headshot to Bergeron (Updated)

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Didn’t take long for Alex Burmistrov to make his presence felt — though not in a good way.

Burmistrov, playing in his first game for the Jets after a two-year stint in Russia, delivered a questionable elbow to the head of Boston’s Patrice Bergeron late in the first period of Thursday’s season-opener:

Burmistrov received a two-minute minor for an illegal check to the head, while Bergeron received a matching minor for roughing (retaliating for the elbow, specifically).

The Bruins went into the intermission leading 1-0, and have yet to update Bergeron’s status.

Update: Bergeron stayed in the game, but B’s head coach Claude Julien was none too pleased with the hit. Following the game, he called for the NHL’s Department of Player Safety to look at it…

Two-for-two: Another successful coach’s challenge as Sens reverse Kane’s goal

Dave Cameron
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Coaches are quickly getting the hang of this challenge thing.

Following Mike Babcock’s successful challenge in Toronto’s opening-night loss to Montreal on Wednesday, Babcock’s provincial rival — Sens head coach Dave Cameron — got it right as well, successfully reversing Evander Kane‘s would-be equalizer in the third period.

From the league:

At 10:34 of the third period in the Senators/Sabres game, Ottawa requested a Coach’s Challenge to review whether Buffalo was off-side prior to Evander Kane’s goal.

After reviewing all available replays and consulting with NHL Hockey Operations staff, the Linesman determined that Buffalo’s Zemgus Girgensons was off-side prior to the goal. According to Rule 78.7, “The standard for overturning the call in the event of a ‘GOAL’ call on the ice is that the Linesman, after reviewing any and all available replays and consulting with the Toronto Video Room, determines that one or more Players on the attacking team preceded the puck into the attacking zone prior to the goal being scored and that, as a result, the play should have been stopped for an “Off-side” infraction; where this standard is met, the goal will be disallowed.”

Therefore the original call is overturned – no goal Buffalo Sabres.

The clock is re-set to show 9:32 (10:28 elapsed time), when the off-side infraction occurred.

As the league later noted, this was the first coach’s challenge under the offside scenario.