The problem with covering a sport on a national (or continental) basis is that you very rarely watch the games. You see highlights.
That’s why many of hockey’s big-time (gag) literati and talking heads place blame on the Penguins for Wednesday’s shenanigans in Winnipeg.
Highlights of the Feb. 16 game between the Jets and Penguins showed Evgeni Malkin’s borderline shot on Winnipeg’s Blake Wheeler, a hit the NHL’s department of player safety did not punish. They did not show Olli Maatta and Justin Schultz leaving that game because of questionable hits prior.
The timeline seems to start with Malkin’s hit. But it actually started with Maatta and Schultz exiting, which led to Malkin’s ill-advised retaliation.
That’s the actual running order: Maatta and Schultz get injured. Malkin runs at Wheeler. Winnipeg dogpiles Malkin. Penguins recall tough guy Tom Sestito for rematch. Malkin and Wheeler fight. Sestito and Chris Thorburn fight. Sestito runs Tobias Enstrom from behind, injuring him.
If Winnipeg doesn’t hurt Maatta and Schultz, nothing that follows is likely to happen. The checks applied to Maatta and Schultz were clearly questionable, especially Dustin Byfuglien’s hit from behind on Schultz. True, those weren’t penalized. Nor was Malkin’s.
Malkin’s hit on Wheeler isn’t the whole story. Tell the whole story.
Enstrom, a non-violent sort, paid for the Jets’ sins. Shrapnel can’t see.
Anyway, the Jets are small potatoes. They came into the game on the playoff precipice and pushed themselves over the edge, plummeting like Wile E. Coyote with an anvil close behind.
Winnipeg badly needed two points Wednesday. But the Jets chose to indulge revenge and testosterone, concentrating on mostly the wrong things. Physicality is the Jets’ forte, but they stir in too much stupidity.
Sestito is small potatoes, too. A pawn. Him getting suspended four games affects nothing.
Should Malkin have been suspended for his hit on Wheeler? It started out shoulder-to-shoulder, but deflected up into Wheeler’s head.
The league didn’t discipline. By the current standard, that’s the proper call.
I would have no problem if every hit like that drew a one-game ban. Applied consistently, that could be a deterrent. A call for caution.
But even if Malkin had been suspended, the Jets would have still tried to wreak vengeance Wednesday. It’s an eye-for-an-eye culture, with a big dash of show biz. (Did you see Wheeler pat Malkin on the back after they fought?)
From a Pittsburgh perspective, Wednesday’s scariest moment was Malkin dropping the gloves.
Malkin fought once last season and, believe it or not, twice in the 2013 postseason. Such limited practice has not made perfect. Wheeler won a clear decision, but at least Malkin didn’t get hurt – not by Wheeler’s fists, or by punching Wheeler’s helmet.
After, Malkin simply demolished the game. Wonder how Gordie Howe would feel about a Russian getting a Gordie Howe hat trick? Malkin (or any superstar) should never fight, but he gets major respect for doing so.
Malkin has had several statement games, and it’s adding up to a statement season. He was just four points off the NHL scoring lead (and tied with Sidney Crosby) before last night’s game, and is playing with an intensity and consistency only displayed by hockey’s very best.
That’s what Malkin is, once more: One of hockey’s very best. The Russian nightmare: Hard as a hammer, sharp as a sickle. With Malkin and Crosby firing on all cylinders, another long playoff run is very possible.
Providing Matt Murray can remember how to catch the puck.
Mark Madden hosts a radio show 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WXDX-FM (105.9).