The NHL announced today the fines stemming from Sunday’s melee between the Flyers and Penguins in Pittsburgh on Sunday afternoon.
Flyers head coach Peter Laviolette was fined $10,000 for breaking Max Talbot’s stick and screaming at the Penguins coaching staff, while Pittsburgh assistant Tony Granato was fined $2500 for his part in the incident.
Flyers fans should be relieved Laviolette was not suspended for escalating an on-ice situation. But somehow, the league’s poster children, the Pittsburgh Penguins, namely head coach Dan Bylsma, were let off the hook for basically inciting a riot.
With less than two minutes to play and the game well in hand, Bylsma decided to send a message to the Flyers, who have not lost to the Penguins in regulation this season and have owned their cross-state rivals at the Consol Energy Center, by sending a group of goons who had not seen a shift in over twelve minutes onto the ice.
What happened next could have easily been predicted.
Pens’ center Joe Vitale took a legal but unnecessary run at Danny Briere, injuring him in the process, and then all ten players squared off and a brawl ensued (Vitale also had an ugly knee-to-knee collision with Nick Grossman in the first period, knocking the defenseman out of the lineup for 7-10 days).
The Flyers had skill players on the ice, and Pittsburgh took advantage.
Aaron Asham, while tied up with Pavel Kubina, started pummeling Brayden Schenn, who was being held from behind by Matt Miskanen, in response to Schenn’s cross-check of Sidney Crosby earlier in the period.
Wayne Simmonds, who a day earlier was cut around the eye when he scored a goal with his face, was forced to fight Pittsburgh toughman Deryk Engelland.
Finally, when the only enforcer on Philly’s bench, Zac Rinaldo, stepped onto the ice he was immediately attacked by an already de-gloved Asham, despite a referee’s warning and attempts to break up another potential altercation once the dust was in the midst of settling.
Whether Bylsma intentionally sent his enforcers to soften up the Pens’ inevitable Eastern Conference Quarterfinal opponent, or simply lost control of his team, the Penguins deserve at least equal punishment for their role in Sunday’s chaos.
Attention has been drawn by the national media to Schenn’s cross-check on Crosby as the initial instigation, but Crosby and Evgeni Malkin’s actions during the game- cheap rabbit punches, pitch-forking a downed skater, slashing the goaltender- have gone unnoticed by both the media and league office.
Not to mention, I seem to remember a teenage Sidney Crosby doing something very similar to Peter Forsberg during his rookie campaign, except Crosby skated away, rather quickly, where Schenn was man enough to face the consequences for his actions.
Hockey is a sport that needs to police itself on the ice, because that is the only way to ensure respect between opponents in the world’s most dangerous game.
A suspension is not nearly as effective a deterrent of dirty play as the threat of having to fight another man whose sole job it is to protect his team’s best players.
However, when the issue becomes one team fearing league action and another having no such worries, the balance of justice is skewed. If Malkin can punch Claude Giroux in the head without fear of reprocussion because Rinaldo will be penalized for just stepping on the ice when an opponent’s star is already out there, or because he might do something illegal, the Flyers have no way to protect themselves.
Meanwhile, the Penguins are allowed to fill the ice with goons and target players with basically no fighting experience when the game’s outcome is no longer in doubt.
Philly fans often complain of a bias against their city, but after the fines were handed down today it is clear the league office is only worried about protecting Crosby, Malkin and the TV-friendly Penguins rather than protecting their game from the cheap shots and cowardice which make European and Russian hockey unwatchable.
With three games remaining Philadelphia trails Pittsburgh by one point for the fourth seed in the Eastern Conference and home-ice advantage in the team’s probable first round matchup. Each team has three games remaining and will meet on the final day of the regular season, Saturday April 7, in what will likely be a Keystone State Showdown to determine the fourth seed.
Saturday’s game and the seven-game series set to directly follow it will be of an entertainment level and intensity not yet displayed in the previous 81 games, but Sunday’s brawl and the requisite action taken by the league leaves a shadow of doubt looming about how any playoff series including the Penguins will be officiated and handled by the league.