The Hits Just Keep On Coming
Sheesh. You'd think Colin Campbell could get one day off.
But with the hockey world still in a state of alarm over the Matt Cooke-Marc Savard hit from last week, and with the Penguins and Bruins set to meet again this Thursday to possibly renew hostilities, Campbell had to shake his head Sunday when another tricky file landed on his desk.
This time, it featured the league's reigning Hart Trophy winner and current scoring leader Alexander Ovechkin of the Washington Capitals. Ovechkin was given a major and game suspension 12 minutes into the first period yesterday of a much-anticipated game with the Chicago Blackhawks for boarding Hawks blueliner Brian Campbell.
This wasn't NHL grunt versus grunt. This was two of the highest paid players clashing, with Ovechkin rudely shoving Campbell from behind into the end boards after Campbell had hustled back for a loose puck and transferred it to a nearby teammate. As he rolled into the boards, Campbell's neck and right shoulder took the brunt of the impact, leaving him gasping for breath on the ice for several minutes.
Ovechkin knew immediately he'd done something wrong, and seemed to wave towards Campbell as if to apologize. After first going to the penalty box, Ovechkin absorbed some trash talk from Hawks forward Troy Brouwer en route to the Washington bench and, ultimately the dressing room.
NBC analyst Pierre Maguire suggested that a double minor would have been appropriate, unaware, apparently, that no such penalty is in the rule book for boarding. It's either a deuce or a major.
While Ovechkin was tossed and NHL officials quickly reviewed the incident, he won't be suspended. Otherwise, he might have been in even hotter water after already being suspended once this season for two games for kneeing Carolina's Tim Gleason Nov. 30.
In between, Ovechkin decked Jaromir Jagr during the Olympics with what was a shoulder to the jaw at mid-ice, leaving some to suggest it was a head shot. He wasn't penalized or suspended.
As it stands, there will be continued suggestions that Ovechkin has become increasingly reckless in his play this season. Reports out of Chicago Sunday night suggested Campbell could miss the rest of the regular season with injuries sustained in the hit.
Meanwhile, the NHL in general seems in a state of amber alert over head shots and bodychecking in general, with every tough hit drawing calls for penalties, suspension or revenge.
Rather than reduce the furor, the league's plan to legislate against head shots starting next fall seems to have increased the controversy and made it even more difficult for officials to differentiate between legal hits and illegal ones. In the Leafs-Islanders game, Dion Phaneuf was cracked from behind by Islander goon Matt Martin with a hit far more dangerous than Ovechkin's, yet received only a minor.
It's a guessing game.
Still, the big story from a Washington perspective yesterday was how Ovechkin was tossed, the Caps fell behind and yet still managed to fight their way back to win 4-3 in overtime on Nicklas Backstrom's spectacular unassisted goal. In so doing, the Caps passed the 100-point mark for the sixth time, but the earliest in club history, while the performance of Antti Niemi did nothing to quiet speculation that a strong Chicago team may not have the goaltending to go deep into the Stanley Cup playoffs.