For better or worse, enforcers aren’t going away anytime soon in the NHL. Sure, a more skill-friendly league is making it tougher for guys who do little beyond serving up hearty knuckle sandwiches, but they keep finding ways to earn paychecks for punching and getting punched.
There’s not anything wrong with that, one just wonders how much longer it will take for fighters to go from “marginalized” to “obsolete.” For all the perks that coming with having a guy to protect a superstar player, there’s that snag about them also needing to be able to skate with that person to truly play that role (and not just menace offenders after they commit grisly acts).
It never hurts to at least have the option of plugging your lineup with a guy who can hurt someone, though, especially when they come at the right price. Two teams added pugilists via affordable deals today.
- The Ottawa Senators signed Zenon Konopka to a one-year contract worth $700K. The best part for Konopka might be that it’s a one-way deal, too; he gets the same paycheck whether he’s throwing his fists or wearing a suit (or maybe playing in the minors?).
To be fair to Konopka, he’s proficient with his hands in one other way that might actually make him an everyday player: the guy can win faceoffs. He won 57.7 percent of the draws he took last season, good enough for the fourth-best rate in the league. It’s not like he only received a handful of FO’s either; he took 1,075 (winning 620) in 82 games played in 2010-11. That’s an average of 13 per game. Considering the fact that he lead the league for the second year in a row in penalty minutes (307), he actually might bring a little something to the table when he’s not breaking noses.
Don’t get too excited, though; he only scored nine points for the New York Islanders. (Still, his faceoff skills are an undeniably nice bonus.) If you ask Don Brennan of the Ottawa Sun, the trio of Konopka, Chris Neil and Matt Carkner might make the Senators the toughest team in the NHL.
- The Nashville Predators probably won’t expect to get much more than some fights out of Zack Stortini. That’s OK, though, because the one-year deal they signed him to is a two-way contract, allowing them to yo-yo him from the NHL to the AHL and back whenever they need a fighter. Stortini should hope he receives a lot of time at the big-league level; he’ll earn at a $550K pace when he’s in the NHL and just a $75K pace in the AHL.
Stortini appeared in 32 games for the Edmonton Oilers and 29 for their AHL affiliate the Oklahoma City Barons last season. Who knows if that half-and-half ratio will be a decent barometer for the Predators since they’re a higher-level squad than the woeful 2010-11 Oilers.
What a start.
This series between the Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington Capitals might be headlined by Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin, but as many have said in the lead-up to tonight’s opener, there is so much more to this second round matchup than that. Washington’s 4-3 overtime victory in Game 1 tonight could be offered up as Exhibit A.
This game had everything except big offensive showings from Crosby and Ovechkin. They had their moments, but in the end combined for just one assist.
What we got instead was a hat trick by T.J. Oshie that was completed with a game-winning goal that made it past the line by such a narrow margin that it warranted a video review:
This game also featured a sequence of three goals in 90 seconds and yet also some great saves by goaltenders Braden Holtby and Matt Murray. At the other end of the spectrum, there was a controversial hit by Tom Wilson that might lead to a suspension.
There was even some odd stuff. Like how Jay Beagle got a stick stuck in his equipment.
If this game sets the tone for the rest of the series, then we should be in for a closely contested, highlight filled affair.
— Nick Bonino had a goal and an assist for the Penguins. Evgeni Malkin and Ben Lovejoy accounted for the Penguins’ other markers.
— Capitals forward Andre Burakovsky scored the game’s opening goal. It was his first marker of the 2016 playoffs.
— Washington outshot Pittsburgh 15-9 in the first period, but Pittsburgh ended up with a 45-35 edge.
— This is the first time in the 2016 playoffs that Braden Holtby has allowed more than two goals. He surrendered just five goals in six games to Philadelphia.
— Matt Murray suffered his first career postseason loss after winning three straight contests against the New York Rangers.
Tom Wilson has already found himself in a controversy for delivering a late, knee-on-knee hit to Penguins forward Conor Sheary in the third period of Game 1 Thursday night.
You can see that incident below:
Wilson spent two minutes in the sin bin earlier in the contest for crosschecking Evgeni Malkin, but there was no penalty on this play.
Fortunately Conor Sheary was able to stay in the game. The question now is if Wilson’s actions will lead to him being suspended prior to Game 2.
This isn’t Wilson’s first brush with controversy. He delivered a big hit to Brayden Schenn in 2013, but Wilson wasn’t suspended for that incident. Lubomir Visnovsky’s final campaign was cut short due to a check by Wilson that angered the New York Islanders. More recently, Nikita Zadorov was concussed by a crushing blow from the Capitals forward.
In 231 career regular season games, Wilson has 50 points and 486 penalty minutes.
Related: Wilson says ‘I’ve never been a dirty hitter’ after teams voice complaints
For the first 30 minutes of Game 1 between Pittsburgh and Washington it looked like goaltenders Matt Murray and Braden Holtby might outshine these star-studded offenses. Then the floodgates opened up, if only for a moment.
Washington already had a 1-0 lead going into the second frame courtesy of Andre Burakovsky‘s first marker of the 2016 playoffs, but Ben Lovejoy and Evgeni Malkin scored back-to-back goals within the span of 57 seconds midway through the second period to tilt the scale in Pittsburgh’s favor. That lead didn’t last for long though as Capitals forward T.J. Oshie got a breakaway opportunity and took full advantage of it.
In total, there were three goals scored in the span of just 90 seconds and you can see all of them below:
After that sequence, the 2-2 tie held for the remainder of the frame. However, Oshie was able to reassert Washington’s edge just 3:23 minutes into the third period.
Through 40 minutes of action in Game 1 of the second round series between Pittsburgh and Washington and we’ve already seen some big moments, along with a pretty unusual one.
Beagle ended up with a stick lodged into his visor towards the end of the second frame. He tried to get it out himself, but ended up having to go to the bench for assistance. You can see that below: