When it was announced that Nicklas Backstrom had received a match penalty for crosschecking Rich Peverley in the face, I looked it up in the NHL rulebook because I thought I remembered match penalties coming with an automatic suspension. I was right, but the suspension is pending a review by the league, meaning the league had the power to overturn the ban and allow Backstrom to play.
Bruins fans had seen this movie before, most notably when Scott Walker suckered Aaron Ward in the face back in the 2009 playoffs. Walker received five minutes for fighting, two for instigating, and a game misconduct; the instigator penalty comes with an automatic suspension when it’s called with less than five minutes left in the game, yet then-disciplinarian Colin Campbell rescinded the suspension.
B’s fans were expecting more of the same with Backstrom, but Shanahan sat him out, calling Backstrom’s crosscheck “excessive and reckless.” True, it was both of those things. But so was Alex Ovechkin’s in Game 2, and that wasn’t even a penalty.
What I think this suspension comes down to is Shanahan finally snapping, to put it succinctly. I think that, as a former player, he’s been giving the players some leeway, suspending only the egregious offenses in hopes that the players get the message and finally shape up.
As these playoffs have shown, the players haven’t gotten that message. Look at the incidents from this first round alone: Shea Weber face-mashing Henrik Zetterberg; James Neal headhunting against the Flyers; Arron Asham trying to decapitate Brayden Schenn; Andrew Shaw trucking Mike Smith; Backstrom’s crosscheck; and then, as he was announcing disciplinary action against the Pittsburgh Penguins, Raffi Torres’ hit on Marian Hossa.
And we’re a WEEK into the postseason. Yikes.
Again, making assumptions here, I think Shanahan took a number of things into consideration when electing to lay the Shanahammer on Backstrom: it was after the game had ended, it was the third such stick-to-the-face incident involving a Capital in this series, and it was called a match penalty by the on-ice officials, who probably used prior actions in the game when making a call. I’m (again) assuming that Shanahan must have spoken to those same officials, and I guess he found their logic in calling the match penalty sound.
Honestly, I was surprised when I heard Backstrom was given the match penalty, and, due to the cynic in me, was even more surprised to hear it upheld. It was probably called a match penalty because it was a dirty play, and it occurred after the game had ended, so there wouldn’t have been any other way to penalize Backstrom for it.
If nothing else, this should make the Caps keep their sticks down for the rest of the series. Who Dale Hunter chooses to replace Backstrom will have a lot to say about how tomorrow night’s game goes: if he goes with Mike Knuble, he’ll be attempting to win the game through a stronger forecheck and a big-bodied veteran presence; if he goes with John Erskine, then it’s pretty clear what type of message Hunter is trying to send.
It’s late, sure, but I (kind of) applaud Shanahan for sticking to the rule book on this one. The Penguin suspensions, along with the one that’s surely on the way for Torres, tell me that Shanahan has lost his patience with his players, and that any toe out of line the rest of the way will result in a seat in the press box.
Sure, we’ve heard this before. But I think he really means it this time. Really! Come on guys, I’m serious…