MONTREAL, QC - DECEMBER 09:  Brad Marchand #63 of the Boston Bruins skates during the NHL game against the Montreal Canadiens at the Bell Centre on December 9, 2015 in Montreal, Quebec, Canada.  The Boston Bruins defeated the Montreal Canadiens 3-1.  (Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images)
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The dangerous line Brad Marchand sometimes skates with the NHL

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On Tuesday night Boston Bruins forward Brad Marchand made some headlines again when he tripped Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman Anton Stralman in the neutral zone with his skate. He did not receive any additional punishment from the league for the play.

As an isolated incident involving two nameless, faceless players it probably wouldn’t have been a play that received anywhere near as much attention as it did. It would be easy, and perhaps somewhat reasonable, to conclude that it was simply a hockey play that involved a player turning to move in the direction of the puck, and at the very least, being guilty of a tripping penalty.

But the play did not involve nameless, faceless players.

It involved Brad Marchand.

On one hand, he is a tremendous player that over the past two years has blossomed into one of the game’s best forwards after getting an increased role in the team’s offense. He is a player that the 29 other general managers outside of Boston would absolutely love to have on their team.

If one of them said they would not want him on their team, you can just assume they are lying. Or are really, really bad at their job.

But he is also player that skates a very dangerous line with the league.

He is a player that had just been fined $10,000 in his previous game before the Stralman incident for a dangerous trip on Detroit Red Wings defenseman Nicklas Kronwall. He is a player that has an extensive history of plays in his career that involve him taking out his opponent’s legs.

He was already warned once this season for slew-footing (a play that is very different than a trip), an act that has earned him a suspension (two games in 2014-15) and a fine ($2,500 in 2011-12) previously in his career.

He has been suspended twice for clipping (three games in 2015-16 and five games in 2011-12).

In total, those five incidents, all plays that targeted the legs of an opponent, have cost him 10 games and more than $377,000 in lost salary (between fines and forfeited salary during suspensions) since the start of the 2011-12 season.

That is a lot, and still, the message does not seem to be getting through.

If the NHL’s department of player safety has shown us anything in its existence, it is that players with a history tend to get hammered when the message does not get through. When Matt Cooke kept getting called in for hearings and getting suspended for hits to the head, he eventually ended up crossing the line so many times that he finally got hit with a 17-game ban during the 2010-11 season (10 regular season games and the entire first round of the playoffs, which turned out to be a seven-game series).

When Raffi Torres couldn’t control himself from hitting his opponents in the head, he ended up losing half of a season.

Now, Marchand’s history of incidents aren’t quite on the same scale as those two, but the point remains: He has an extensive track record of a certain type of play, and it would seem reasonable to assume that at least one of these latest incidents would have warranted more than just a fine.

But this is where the NHL is in a tough spot with Marchand.

A player’s history does not become a factor until it is determined that a particular play is worthy of a suspension, and if there is another thing we have learned about the DoPS at this point it is that there are certain plays they do not tend to suspend for. Those are typically the plays that Marchand is involved in.

During the playoffs last year I went back through every suspension and fine the DoPS has issued since the department was formed at the start of the 2011-12 season and compiled a list of what does — and does not — tend to result in a suspension. I updated it to include this season’s 10 suspensions and five fines.

This does not include fines for embellishment or incidents not handled by the DoPS.

Notice where slew-footing and tripping, highlighted in yellow, sit.

suspensionsfines

Marchand’s borderline acts tend to be those that do not typically result in suspensions, mainly because one of the biggest goals of the DoPS in its development was to focus on direct hits to the head, or plays that could involve the head (boarding, elbowing, etc.).

Of the eight slew-footing incidents that have risen to the level of player safety, only two, including one for Marchand, warranted a suspension (and they were just a few weeks apart during the 2013-14 season). Six resulted in fines.

Astonishingly, two of the three clipping suspensions the league has handed out belong to Marchand.

The NHL, under the DoPS, has never suspended a player for tripping, and that is a precedent they are probably not going to break in the middle of a season unless it is an extremely egregious incident. Had the NHL suspended him for one of these past two plays (specifically the Kronwall one) he probably would have had a reason to appeal based on that, and would have stood a good chance of winning it.

There are two things that maybe the NHL as a league needs to consider here during the offseason.

The first is that maybe it should take into account a player’s history as soon as it looks at an incident. It might not be entirely fair, it might create the mindset that a particular player is getting picked on or targeted, but if it’s a player that has an extensive track record of similar plays it is probably a player that needs to be targeted.

The other is that the league — including the 30 general managers — need to set a new standard for what should happen on plays that target player’s legs like the ones we’ve talked about here. At this point it doesn’t seem to be a primary concern, perhaps because a slew foot or a trip (like the one involving Marchand and Kronwall) has not really resulted in a serious injury, whether it be to their leg or something worse after falling to the ice.

If it eventually did, you could bet that it would start to get more attention. Take, for example, the aforementioned Matt Cooke. When he wrecked Marc Savard‘s career with that horrendous hit a few years ago he did not receive a suspension for a play that everybody in the league — including his own team — wanted to see him suspended for because the league had a long-standing precedent that it was a legal play. Dirty. But legal.

When there was enough of an uproar, specifically because of that hit by Cooke a couple of other similar hits that season, it finally led to the creation of rule 48 and the development of the DoPS.

In the end, this is the fine line that you get with Marchand.

He is a great player. A top-line, possession driving scorer whose on-ice performance appeals to be the analytical and eye-test senses.

But he also skates a fine — and in certain areas reckless — line that makes him a thorn in the side of the NHL as much as it does his opponents.

Crosby, Penguins deliver blow to Flyers’ playoff chances in Stadium Series

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PITTSBURGH — The first time the Pittsburgh Penguins played a game at Heinz Field, Sidney Crosby was on top of the NHL and having one of the most dominant offensive seasons in recent history. That was the game he was on the receiving end of the Dave Steckel hit that started the chain of events that basically cost him two of the prime years of his career.

The Heinz Field experience was significantly better for him and the Penguins this time around.

Crosby opened the scoring midway through the first period with his league-leading 34th goal of the season — finishing a slick feed from rookie forward Jake Guentzel — to help lead the Penguins to a 4-2 in the 2017 NHL Stadium Series game.

“We were thrilled for him,” said Penguins coach Mike Sullivan when asked about Crosby scoring a goal in his return to Heinz Field.

“I am sure the experience of coming back here probably brought back some memories that he probably would like to forget. So to have a night like tonight, and an opportunity to play in such an exciting venue and start the game off the way he did, it did probably just helped him put that experience behind and move forward. I thought he played a solid game, his line was really good all night long and he scored a huge goal for us.”

Crosby’s goal is only part of the story in this one.

Nick Bonino, Matt Cullen and Chad Ruhwedel also scored goals in the win, while Matt Murray stopped 35 of the 37 shots he faced.

First, for Pittsburgh, it was a huge win given the status of an undermanned defense that was playing without three of its top players. With Trevor Daley and Olli Maatta already sidelined, they were also without Kris Letang on Saturday night due to an upper body injury that currently has him listed as day-to-day. That meant they had to rely significantly on their depth.

Ron Hainsey, playing in his debut with the team after being acquired in a trade earlier this week from the Carolina Hurricanes, played more than 20 minutes in the win, including more than three minutes on the penalty kill. They also received a huge goal from Ruhwedel in the third period to help put the game away.

It wasn’t a flawless effort by the group (37 shots against illustrates that) but considering who was out of the lineup and the situation they were facing it was a huge performance to remain ahead of the New York Rangers for the second spot in the Metropolitan Division and improve their record to 7-1-3 in their past 11 games.

Things are not quite as optimistic for the Flyers at the moment.

The loss on Saturday is a pretty damaging blow to their already fading playoff chances as they remain five points out of a playoff spot — with three teams ahead of them — with only 21 games to go.

They are also just 9-16-4 in their past 29 games since their 10-game winning streak ended on Dec. 14.

“It’s a tough result, walking away,” said Flyers coach Dave Hakstol after the game. “It’s a pretty close, tight hockey game where I thought our team played well, battled extremely well, and did a lot of good things but we walk away with the wrong result.”

That has happened a lot lately for the Flyers.

So why are they not getting the results? Well, the problem on Saturday was a familiar one for the Flyers — goaltending and defensive zone breakdowns.

Crosby’s goal to open the scoring was the result of a breakdown in defensive zone coverage that allowed the game’s best offensive player to be left wide open along the side of the net for an easy one-timer. Even though Michal Neuvirth didn’t have much of a chance on that play, he didn’t exactly play a strong game, allowing four goals on 29 shots.

The Matt Cullen goal to give the Penguins a 3-1 lead in the third period was a particularly tough one for Neuvirth to give up.

It is already the 10th time in 24 games this season he has given up at least three goals in a game, while his save percentage on the season remains well below the .890 mark. For a goalie that was one of the best values in the league last season in terms of performance and salary cap hit, it has been a massive regression this season.

Even though the results are not going their way at the moment Hakstol remains convinced the team is doing the right things and that the key to turning things around is just sticking with what they are doing.

“Couple little things within the game tonight,” said Hakstol. “We haven’t been able to score a whole lot. There has been a lot made of that, and fairly so. You look at the opportunities tonight, the type of opportunities we generate were pretty reasonable. You have to stick with it. We have gone through a tough stretch here, but for the vast majority we have played some pretty good hockey and we need to stick with it. We have to stay together as we have and we have to keep pushing the envelope.”

The Flyers are back in action on Tuesday against the Colorado Avalanche.

A bye week hangover? Not for the Blue Jackets

COLUMBUS, OH - DECEMBER 20:  Nick Foligno #71 of the Columbus Blue Jackets warms up prior to the start of the game against the Los Angeles Kings on December 20, 2016 at Nationwide Arena in Columbus, Ohio. (Photo by Kirk Irwin/Getty Images)
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COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) Josh Anderson and Nick Foligno each scored twice, sending the Columbus Blue Jackets to a 7-0 romp over the New York Islanders on Saturday.

The high-energy Blue Jackets didn’t show any rust in their first game back following their five-day break, unlike many teams that have struggled coming out of the bye week this season. Columbus scored three times in the first period, chasing New York goalie Thomas Greiss.

David Savard had a goal and three assists, Boone Jenner and Jack Johnson also scored and backup goaltender Joonas Korpisalo stopped all 24 shots for the Blue Jackets, who ended New York’s three-game winning streak. Columbus has a comfortable hold on the top wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference, while the Islanders are in a tight race for the final playoff berth.

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Greiss stopped 14 of 17 shots in the first period. His replacement, Jean-Francois Berube, saved 24 of 28.

Johnson got Columbus started when his shot from the point bounced off the skate of New York’s Nick Leddy and through Greiss’ pads 5:19 into the game.

Later in the first period, Cam Atkinson‘s shot from the left circle was stopped by Greiss, but the rebound trickled back out from between his legs and a charging Jenner tapped it in.

Foligno capped the first-period barrage when he deked the goalie and scored on a backhand.

The Blue Jackets outshot the Islanders 17-9 in the period, leading to Greiss’ benching.

Anderson kept it going 4:31 into the second with a sharp one-timer from the high slot off Jenner’s pass. Late in the period, Anderson got another one when he picked the pocket of defender Thomas Hickey in the neutral zone and launched a rocket past Berube from the right circle.

The highlight-reel goals continued in the third period when an airborne pass from Savard found Foligno for a breakaway 6:06 in. Savard got the seventh goal with 6 1/2 minutes left.

Just another big game for Filip Forsberg

GLENDALE, AZ - DECEMBER 10:  Filip Forsberg #9 of the Nashville Predators during the NHL game against the Arizona Coyotes at Gila River Arena on December 10, 2016 in Glendale, Arizona. The Coyotes defeated the Predators 4-1.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
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Filip Forsberg‘s bid for a hat trick in three consecutive games didn’t quite pan out Saturday. Fear not, he still had a three-point night.

The 22-year-old Forsberg has been lighting it up of late for the Predators. He had back-to-back hat tricks already this week, the first player to do so since 2010. He then helped lead the way against the Washington Capitals on Saturday, with a goal and two assists in a 5-2 win over the best team in the NHL.

That’s nine points in the last three games and 10 points in the last four games for Forsberg. The win pushes Nashville back into third in the Central Division — two points better than St. Louis and 12 points back of second place Chicago.

Of course there was animosity late in the game when it appeared the Predators were too far out of reach of the Capitals, as Tom Wilson decided to fight Mike Fisher.

After falling behind in the second period, the Capitals thought they had closed the gap early in the third period only to have video review from a coach’s challenge determine Alex Ovechkin was just offside at the blue line, overturning the original call.

 

Video: Manning crushes Guentzel with massive hit

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The Penguins were up in arms after Philadelphia Flyers defenseman Brandon Manning crushed Jake Guentzel with a hit that appeared both high and late during the second period of Saturday’s Stadium Series game at Heinz Field.

There was no call on the play — the main objection from Pittsburgh’s bench immediately after the hit.

Guentzel had just moved the puck to a nearby linemate as the play transitioned into the neutral zone when Manning threw the hit, sending Guentzel hard to the ice.

Guentzel, for now at least, appears to have gotten the last laugh. He returned and recorded the primary assist on Nick Bonino‘s goal, which gave Pittsburgh a 2-0 lead.

Philly has since cut into the Pittsburgh lead.