The NHL has suspended Pittsburgh forward James Neal five games — the maximum allowable after his telephone hearing with the Department of Player Safety — for kneeing Bruins forward Brad Marchand in the head on Saturday night.
Neal, 26, clipped a fallen Marchand with his knee during a wild first period of play. The Pens winger was given a minor penalty on the play and, adding insult to injury, jumped out of the box to score just seven seconds after his penalty expired.
“With a clear view of Marchand and plenty of time to avoid him, Neal skates directly through Marchand’s head with his left knee,” explained NHL discipline czar Brendan Shanahan. “It is our belief after viewing this incident that this is more serious than simply not avoiding contact with a fallen player.
“While looking down directly at Marchand, Neal turns his skates and extends his left leg, ensuring that contact is made with Marchand’s head.”
Here’s the video:
Neal isn’t a repeat offender under the terms of the CBA, but he does have a disciplinary history. He was suspended one game during the opening round of the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs and, in 2009, was suspended for two games (while a member of the Dallas Stars) for boarding then-Columbus forward Derek Dorsett.
Neal will miss tonight’s game vs. Columbus and be out for the following four games (New Jersey, Detroit, Toronto and the New York Rangers.) He’ll be eligible to return on Thursday, Dec. 19, when the Penguins host the Wild at Consol. He’ll also forfeit $128,205.15 in salary to the Players’ Emergency Assistance Fund.
An injury to Trevor van Riemsdyk has paved the way for Michal Rozsival to make his season debut for the Chicago Blackhawks.
Rozsival might’ve been scheduled to play anyway, as the veteran defenseman is expected to replace Michal Kempny when the ‘Hawks host the Flames tonight at United Center.
“We want to get everyone in at some point,” said head coach Joel Quenneville, per the Chicago Tribune. “We don’t want to wait too long to get him into the season here. He can be useful, gives us some experience and can play minutes against top guys.”
At 38, Rozsival is one of the oldest players in the NHL. When the ‘Hawks re-signed him for another year, it came as a surprise to many. And by the time training camp rolled around, even he wasn’t exactly sure what his role would be this season.
But not surprisingly, after last season, GM Stan Bowman would rather err on the side of too much depth on the back end.
“It’s funny, because we had these [interviews] a year ago and they were always saying, ‘Are you worried about your defense? Do you have enough depth there?'” Bowman said, per the Sun-Times. “And now you’re saying we have too much depth. I think no matter what the story is, there’s a story line to it. But I’d rather have more guys who can play. Are we going to be healthy all year long? I hope so. But I don’t know if we will. … The thing with Michal, even last year, he just played too much consecutively. He still has a lot of hockey left.”
Related: Blackhawks’ issues go beyond the penalty kill
Calgary head coach Glen Gulutzan made a noteworthy decision over the weekend, opting to sit No. 1 netminder Brian Elliott against his former team, the St. Louis Blues, in favor of backup Chad Johnson.
The move didn’t pay off. Calgary lost 6-4, with Johnson allowing five goals on 39 shots.
So now, Elliott is back in goal was the Flames take on the ‘Hawks tonight at the United Center.
Acquired to fix the goaltending issues that plagued Calgary all of last season, Elliott has gone 0-3-0 with an .839 save percentage and 4.72 GAA.
Not good, obviously — especially for a 31-year-old pending UFA that’s looking to score a contract extension.
The Flames will hope that Elliott’s former goalie partner, Jake Allen, is something of a psychic. Over the weekend, Allen predicted that Elliott “will find his game very soon,” and tonight would be a good night for that to happen — Chicago’s offense has been firing over the last four games, finding the back of the net 16 times.
That said, the ‘Hawks are facing issues of their own.
They’ll give Corey Crawford the start tonight.
— Just one other game on the ledger, as the Flyers will take on the Habs in Montreal. Philly is going with Steve Mason, who allowed three goals on 30 shots in a win over Carolina on Saturday. The Canadiens are going with Carey Price, who allowed two goals on 21 shots in a win over Boston on Saturday.
His official status hasn’t changed, but Sidney Crosby wasn’t wearing a no-contact jersey at Penguins practice today, and that’s progress.
“Sid is day-to-day, as he has been. We’ll take tomorrow as it comes,” head coach Mike Sullivan said, per the club’s website. “It’s obviously a big step when he joins the group. To have him join the group in a full-contact practice like that is encouraging from our standpoint.”
Crosby has not played this season due to a concussion. There remains no timetable for his return, and the Pens aren’t going to rush their captain. But the way things have been progressing, don’t be surprised if he plays pretty soon. The Penguins host Florida tomorrow and the Islanders Thursday, then it’s off to Philadelphia for a game Saturday before embarking on a three-game trip to California.
“I got the OK to go out there and be in a full practice,” Crosby said. “It was just good to be back on the ice with the guys. It’s not easy watching. To be out there was nice and hopefully a good step.”
He hasn’t been perfect, but Peter Budaj has been good enough to give the Kings a two-game winning streak. Now the 34-year-old goalie is just hoping to keep it going, while Jonathan Quick and Jeff Zatkoff recover from their groin injuries.
“I just want to take it one game at a time,” Budaj said, per LA Kings Insider. “I know it’s a cliché and you guys probably hate it when players say that, but it is true. You just want to look up one game ahead, and that’s what you want to look at. We won today, we’re very happy, but we’ve just got to regroup, come back to work.”
Again, Budaj hasn’t been perfect. His save percentage is just .889, which isn’t very good at all.
But for a guy who’d started just one NHL game since the 2013-14 season, simply playing well enough to give his team a chance to win is about all that could be asked, and on that he’s delivered. He was a perfect three-for-three in Saturday’s shootout versus Vancouver, recovering nicely after allowing a late goal to send the game to overtime.
Next up for the Kings is a home game tomorrow against Columbus. After that comes a visit from Nashville, and then it’s off on a two-game trip to St. Louis and Chicago.
“There are a lot of tough games coming up for us, so we’ve got to just be ready and work hard and try to focus on the next game and don’t look too far ahead,” said Budaj, “because then you’re going to get caught in the moment and the present’s going to kind of slip away from you, so you’ve just got to focus on the present.”