PHT’s top 13 of ’13: Anti-fighting movement gains momentum

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Hockey is a sport that fosters passionate debate, but few topics have as entrenched supporters and dissenters as much as fighting.

To some, fighting is at the core of the game and an integral part of the NHL; others see it as barbaric, outdated, and, in the age of increasing awareness of concussions, downright irresponsible.

This year saw an increase in the debate and new momentum for those that oppose sparring matches. With head injuries becoming an increasing concern, the fear that fights might lead to concussions is a key argument against it. One of the better recent examples of that is George Parros, who has dealt with two fight-related concussions this season.

The first one you could write off as an unfortunate accident, but the second is harder to dismiss:

Even before Parros’ second head injury of 2013, Tampa Bay Lightning GM Steve Yzerman wondered why the league was handing out suspensions for head hits courtesy of checks, but fighting was still penalized by a mere five-minute penalty.

“We’re stuck in the middle and need to decide what kind of sport do we want to be,” Yzerman argued. “Either anything goes and we accept the consequences, or take the next step and eliminate fighting.”

Yzerman was joined by Pittsburgh Penguins GM Ray Shero, Carolina Hurricanes GM Jim Rutherford, and legendary coach Scotty Bowman in his call for change.

At the same time, there’s clearly a fair amount of fan support for fighting, at least among PHT readers that overwhelmingly voted it belongs in the NHL. The players have continually, and overwhelmingly, supported its role in the game, too. Ditto for general managers like Calgary’s Brian Burke.

Why the support for fighting? Depends who you ask. Some advocates support dropping the gloves as a form of entertainment and an expression of the ferocity of the sport; others argue it actually prevents injuries by allowing players to police themselves. Still others feel fights can stop a bad situation from getting worse.

The latter is certainly the belief of New Jersey Devils enforcer Cam Janssen, who suggested that Boston’s Shawn Thornton’s recent attack on Penguins defenseman Brooks Orpik wouldn’t have happened if Orpik had agreed to fight after delivering a hard hit to forward Loui Eriksson.

Other players, like Detroit’s Daniel Alfredsson, feel that’s an old-school view that shouldn’t be followed any more. Instead, Alfredsson thinks that hits should be ruled on by the referees and left at that.

Finally, it’s worth noting that not all fights are created equal. When Philadelphia goaltender Ray Emery skated the length of the ice to force Capitals netminder Braden Holtby to fight him, there was widespread condemnation.

NHL disciplinarian Brendan Shanahan “hated it” and commissioner Gary Bettman also voiced his displeasure.

But while this year’s incidents may have helped fuel the debate over fighting, it doesn’t sound like any major rule changes are on the near horizon for the NHL, which has repeatedly maintained “there is not an appetite to change the rules with respect to fighting.”

Ducks deny rally, end Penguins’ winning streak

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When Ondrej Kase cashed in on another breakaway opportunity for the Ducks to make it 4-1 in the second period, it looked like that goal would be icing on the cake for Anaheim. Even if it would be especially pretty frosting.

Instead, that stylish goal ended up being critical, as the Pittsburgh Penguins nearly rallied in the third period to at least send Wednesday’s game to overtime. John Gibson ended up holding down the fort, and with an empty-netter in the dying seconds, the Ducks ended up beating the Penguins 5-3.

You could call it a game of periods and close calls.

The Penguins entered the first intermission thanks to a 1-0 Evgeni Malkin goal, but the Ducks dominated the middle frame with their first four-goal period of 2017-18. The Penguins’ prolific power play helped them stay in the game (2-for-4, with both goals coming during that third-period comeback bid), but the rally fell short. Pittsburgh’s winning streak ended at four victories.

Some bounces went both ways, as Antoine Vermette nearly scored for the Ducks while Carl Hagelin suffered a near-miss. So maybe those missed opportunities cancel each other out?

From the Ducks’ perspective, this is the latest argument in favor of this team being a threat now that key pieces have returned to the lineup. This win begins what they hope is a successful five-game homestand, as Anaheim still needs to battle for its own playoff hopes.

The Penguins can’t ruminate on this loss for very long. They head to Los Angeles to face what must be a frustrated Kings team (four straight defeats, only two wins in their last eight games) on Thursday, with little reason to expect any mercy.

This last stretch of wins improved the Penguins’ outlook, but dropping games in back-to-back nights could make things tense again in a hurry. You can check out that Penguins – Kings game on NBCSN Thursday.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Willie O’Ree celebrates 60th anniversary of debut with Bruins

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BOSTON (AP) Hockey pioneer Willie O’Ree was honored in Boston on Wednesday on the 60th anniversary of the Bruins forward breaking the NHL’s color barrier.

At a news conference at the TD Garden before the Bruins game against the Montreal Canadiens, Mayor Marty Walsh declared Jan. 18, 2018 to be “Willie O’Ree Day”. O’Ree made his debut in 1958 during a 3-0 victory against the Canadiens at the Forum in Montreal.

Walsh called O’Ree a Boston legend who changed the city for the better and thanked him for his courage. As part of the celebration, the city dedicated a new street hockey rink in the Allston-Brighton neighborhood to be known as Willie O’Ree Rink.

A native of Canada, O’Ree, 82, had four goals and 10 assists in 45 games over parts of two NHL seasons. He spent a total of 21 years in pro hockey.

For the past two decades, O’Ree has served as the NHL’s Diversity Ambassador, spreading the message that hockey is for everyone.

More AP NHL hockey at https://apnews.com/tag/NHLhockey

Bruins cruise vs. Canadiens in Julien’s return to Boston

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Don’t blame Claude Julien if Wednesday made him think of better times, and not just because it was his welcome back night in Boston.

Coming into this one, it was a tale of two teams going in opposite directions, and the teams stuck to their scripts. The Boston Bruins remain red-hot with a 4-1 win, while the Montreal Canadiens are mired in mediocrity .. or worse?

When you’re as disappointing as the Canadiens have been, plenty of things are going wrong. It was a weak start even with a 1-0 lead and 1-1 first period in mind, and it obviously didn’t get any better.

Nights like these have to sting for Julien, a coach known for his sophisticated systems and eye for defensive detail.

There are questions about Max Pacioretty possibly being trade bait. People wonder if Jonathan Drouin or Alex Galchenyuk fit as centers, or if neither work that way. Yet, these performances make you realize that as exasperated as management must be, they may also appreciate more specific distractions.

Because, frankly, this was a team … non-effort.

Then again, the Bruins are a red-hot squad, so maybe they shine an especially harsh light on the Habs’ haplessness?

Boston generated a 32-22 shots on goal advantage in this one, with multiple contributors stepping up. Big guns came through (Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak were among the goal scorers, Patrice Bergeron collected two assists), while David Backes and others added to the fun.

It was the kind of effort Julien would have been very happy with, if it didn’t come at his expense.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

WATCH LIVE: Pittsburgh Penguins at Anaheim Ducks

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PROJECTED LINEUPS

Pittsburgh Penguins

Dominik SimonSidney Crosby — Daniel Sprong

Carl HagelinEvgeni MalkinPatric Hornqvist

Conor ShearyJake GuentzelPhil Kessel

Tom KuhnhacklRiley SheahanRyan Reaves

Brian DumoulinKris Letang

Olli MaattaJustin Schultz

Matt HunwickJamie Oleksiak

Starting goalie: Tristan Jarry

[NHL on NBCSN doubleheader: Canadiens vs. Bruins; Penguins vs. Ducks]

Ducks

Rickard RakellRyan GetzlafCorey Perry

Derek GrantRyan KeslerJakob Silfverberg

Nick RitchieAdam HenriqueOndrej Kase

Chris WagnerAntoine VermetteJ.T. Brown

Cam FowlerKevin Bieksa

Hampus LindholmJosh Manson

Francois BeaucheminBrandon Montour

Starting goalie: John Gibson