On February 15th, 2011 the Penguins visited the New York Islanders.
The Pens lost that “game” 9-3. That night, 346 penalty minutes were assessed as well. This mayhem was a direct result of Pens goalie Brent Johnson breaking Islanders goalie Rick DiPietro’s jaw during the previous encounter just days before. Trevor Gillies and Matt Martin were dispatched against the Penguins. For their actions, Gillies was suspended 9 games, and Matt Martin was suspended 4 games. According to Mario Lemieux, “The NHL had a chance to send a clear and strong message that those kinds of actions are unacceptable and embarrassing to the sport. It failed.”
Flash forward to 2017. It seems, in some respects, as if nothing has changed in the intervening six years. An embarrassing situation (other than the Jets goal tending) unfolded yet again for the Penguins, this time during the final meeting of the Penguins and the Winnipeg Jets this season.
During the first meetup between the Pens and Jets, Justin Schultz was concussed.
Oli Maatta’s hand was broken, and most egregiously, Evgeni Malkin elbowed Blake Wheeler.
Malkin probably should have received a minor suspension for this hit. During the Penguins-Jets rematch, Tom Sestito was naturally called up as a deterrent by the Penguins. As a result, Sestito leveled Toby Enstrom with a dirty-man’s dirty hit and fought Chris Thornburn during his 62 seconds of ice time. Enstrom was taken to the hospital for possible facial fractures while Sestito has been suspended for four games.
The idea of calling up a player like Sestito as a deterrent is archaic. He did not deter anything and the result still was a Malkin-Wheeler fight. Malkin was not hurt in the scrap.
It is an embarrassment that the NHL is afraid to enforce the rules equally across all players, even Evgeni Malkin. It is also an embarrassment that NHL teams call up players like Tom Sestito to go head hunting during games. However, it is a bigger embarrassment that virtually nothing has changed in this respect from 2011 to 2017. Mario was in fact, right.
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