There are so many story lines that came out of last night’s Penguins/Bruins game that I’m not even sure where to start.
Could it be the fact that the Pens blew a 2-1 lead with less than three minutes to go to lose the game 3-2? Alarming for sure, but no.
How about the fact that Deryk Engelland was playing the point on the Penguins second power play unit instead of Simon Despres? On any other night, this would certainly be the focus for any Penguins writer’s column. However, as the saying goes, there are bigger fish to fry in this one.
I’m talking, of course about the two horrific incidents of dirty play that marred what would have been an otherwise entertaining hockey game. I’ll start off with the 500 pound elephant in the room: Shawn Thornton.
Let’s start from the beginning. Early on in the first period, Penguins defenseman Brooks Orpik laid out Bruins forward Loui Eriksson with a clean hit that sent Eriksson tumbling to the ice. Apparently shaken up after the collision, Eriksson went straight to the dressing room and did not return to the game.
After the hit was made, Bruins enforcer Shawn Thornton tried to lure Orpik into a fight as reparations for a clean hit, to which Orpik failed to oblige.
Thornton makes a B line for Orpik, grabs him by the back of the collar, slew foots him, drags him on the ground and hits him several times in the head with his elbow, all because Orpik refused to “answer the bell” and fight Thornton after a clean hit. Thornton was assessed a match penalty and thrown out for the remainder of the game.
What’s worse is the fact that the hit knocked Orpik unconscious. He had to be stretchered off of the ice and taken to Massachusetts General for further evaluation, where thankfully he was reported to be awake and alert.
After the game, Thornton appeared to be incredibly remorseful and upset at the fact that he had injured Orpik so badly.
In a post game scrum with Joe Haggerty of CSNNE, Thornton had this to say:““I feel awful,” Thornton said. “It wasn’t my intention for that outcome. I know Brooksie. I’ve gotten to know him over the last seven years here. I skate with him in the summer and through the lockout. I’ve texted him a couple times. I feel awful. It’s not what I wanted to see or what anybody wanted to see.””
Thornton appeared genuinely remorseful and sorry for what he did, at one point even fighting back tears.
All of that means absolute nothing.
Remorseful or not, Thornton committed one of the dirtiest acts I’ve seen during a hockey game in a long time. His actions both on the ice as well as in his interview afterwards screamed shades of Todd Bertuzzi after his assault on Steve Moore over a decade ago.
All of this from a guy whose supposed role on the ice is to fight for “The Code” and uphold the honor and integrity that apparently no longer exists anymore. In essence, Shawn Thornton’s role is to protect his Bruins teammates from guys like Shawn Thornton. It’s an asinine concept to think that players can police themselves without incidents like this one last night happening. It’s not a matter of whether or not you think fighting has a place in the game. This was not a fight. This was a straight-up assault that has no place in the game.
Making it worse is the fact that these kind of occurrences are becoming the norm and not the exception, and they will continue to happen until Gary Bettman and the Department of Player Safety, as well as all NHL owners decide to get serious and start handing out massive suspensions for a cheap play like Thornton’s. Thornton should get 15-20 games for that hit. He won’t. He’ll most likely end up getting an 8-10 game ban, a comparative slap on the wrist when you look at it in the context of an entire season.
For years, Thornton has been held up as the “anti-goon”: a tough guy who like to drop the gloves, but who can also chip in offensvly and play actual hockey. He does not previously have a reputation as a dirty player, however one would think that it will take him a good bit of time to makeover his image after last night.
Unfortunately, Thornton’s attack was not the only incident of dirty play in the course of the game.
At the beginning of the same sequence, Bruins forward Brad Marchand was on all fours, lying on the ice after taking a body check. He appeared to be recovering from hit when Penguins forward James Neal deliberately stuck his knee out and made contact with Marchand’s head as he was passing by.
Neal see’s that Marchand is down, changes his direction, sticks his leg out just enough to make contact, and then never looks back. It’s a gutless play, for which he deserves a substantial suspension. Having said that, it doesn’t make what Thornton did any more justifiable. Neal was not penalized for the play.
Neal has a history of cheap hits. He has a dirty streak in him a mile wide, and one that’s only made more noticeable once he becomes agitated. This was one of the more cheap, sneaky-dirty plays of all-time. His absence will add to an already injury depleted Penguins roster, something Pittsburgh can ill-afford at the point in time.
As I stated before, both deserve 10+ game suspensions for their actions, however both will get off easy.
If I had to bet, I’d say 4-5 for Neal and 8-10 for Thornton, but who knows. Maybe the NHL will finally wise up and drop the hammer on these kinds of hits.
Don’t count on it though.