Expect the debates over the NHL’s Rule 48 about blindside shots and blows to the head to be fired up tonight.
During the third period of tonight’s Rangers-Flames game in Madison Square Garden, Calgary’s Matt Stajan carried the puck across the blue line and passed to a teammate as he entered the Rangers zone. While watching to see where his pass was headed, Stajan was annihilated by Rangers defenseman Marc Staal. Stajan hit the ice in a heap and needed assistance to get back to the bench. Staal was not penalized for the hit but Calgary was certainly upset by it and attempted to take out their frustrations on Staal throughout the remainder of the game to no avail. The Rangers won the game 3-2. As for the hit itself, judge for yourself to see what your instant reaction is.
Our thought on the hit is simple. It’s a clean, very hard, and punishing hit. It’s not a blindside hit because Staal is approaching Stajan from the front. Just because Stajan has his head turned doesn’t absolve him from being able to skate unaware of his surroundings. Had Staal hit him from the side we’d be having a different discussion, but Staal came at him from the front. Staal’s elbows are in and it’s a punishing blow delivered from the shoulders. Stajan put himself at most risk for not keeping his eyes forward after making the pass. It’s not as if Staal came out of nowhere to make the hit, it’s just bad fortune for Stajan that Staal is a huge player that skates fast. The lesson here, as always, should be to keep your head up.
While Staal wasn’t penalized on the play, that certainly doesn’t mean the league can’t touch him if they feel he violated Rule 48. We’ve seen other players already get stung this year for hits that didn’t earn them penalties. While Staal could be punished, the NHL would be setting a bad example if they punish Staal for this hit. After all, if you take hits like this out of hockey, you’re not exactly playing hockey anymore.