This weekend the Bruins and Penguins battled (literally) through a game that ended 3-2 favor of Boston. The final score is of little consequence to the league and health of several players. The real story that emerged from the muck was the altercation between Shawn Thornton and Brooks Orpik.
Early in the opening frame, Orpik had taken out Loui Eriksson on a check in the neutral zone that sent Eriksson off the ice on a stretcher. No penalty was called on the borderline play but there is some expectation of a review of that play.
Eriksson was concussed on the play, his second such injury in the last 45 days. Now he, his team and the NHL must consider his short-term and long-term health consequences from two concussions in such a short interval.
Near the eleven minute mark of the first period, the Bruins’ Brad Marchand was hit and dropped to the ice near the benches and while attempting to regain his skates was hit, knee to head, by the Penguins’ James Neal, in what can only be described as a “targeted hit”.
That escalated an ugly game into a dreadful display of sport by both sides. Thornton took the opportunity to call out Orpik in the Pittsburgh zone, to which Orpik declined the engagement. Replays of the event clearly show Thornton slew-footing Orpik to the ice and in the same motion driving the defenseman’s head to the ice, whereupon Thornton punched the prone d-man in the face several times before being separated.
Much has been, and much more will be, written about this incident.
“Obviously, I made a mistake. I’m aware of it. I’ve been told that I’ll be having a hearing and it’s hard for me to say much more other than that was not my intention. I feel awful and felt sick all game,” Thornton was quoted saying on The Globe web site.
“That’s always my job, I guess, to defend my teammates, but I’ve prided myself for a long time to stay within the lines, and like I said, it’s hard for me to talk about right now. I can’t say I’m sorry enough, and I’m sure I’ll be criticized for saying it, but it’s true. I, I just hope he’s doing alright. I heard that he’s conscious and talking, and I’m happy to hear that.”
Pittsburgh head coach Dan Bylsma was quoted saying that Orpik had been unconscious on the ice after the hit to the ice.
Thornton can be as remorseful as he wants but the fact remains he slew-footed his opponent and twice tried to drive Orpik seemingly through the ice surface before hitting him with a gloved fist.
The discussion engendered by this incident cannot be focused on fighting in the NHL. This is about respect for the opposition and in this match; neither the Penguins nor Bruins exhibited anything near respect for their opposition. Neal drove his knee through Marchand’s head. Did Marchand deserve that? Not sure anyone in the game now or ever deserves that treatment.
Did Orpik deserve to have his head used as a battering ram to break up the ice under his head? Clearly, no.
To what depth of depravity, has this game deteriorated?
Brendan Shanahan will have his hands full this week meeting out suspensions. But he has been stern in his decisions this season and that seems to have little lasting impact on the players.
Where is the control on the game? The on-ice officials are increasingly more hesitant to raise the arm for a penalty. Had they called even a minor on Orpik on the hit on Eriksson there might not have been the ramping up of emotions in that first period.
There are those who will cite fighting as the resolution. Orpik declined the opportunity to defend himself when challenged by Thornton leading to the slew-footing. What would have been accomplished with a scrap between the two? It may well have grown to a line-brawl with all of the players milling about in the Pens’ defensive zone and the officials desperately outmanned.
Someone needs to gain control before there is a catastrophic outcome.