In need of pest control

Maxim Lapierre specializes in a small handful of on-ice talents, and few of them involve scoring. Among his arsenal of skills are making faces, illegal hits, and the occasional flop.

He is a pest, a role widely despised, but one that’s been around the NHL for much longer than most fans would care to believe or acknowledge. The role of the pest differs from the enforcer in that his job is to agitate, and to become that annoying little rash on the skin of the opposition’s star players.

It’s a role that when executed properly can be very effective. Prime examples of the efficient but reasonably controlled breed of pest are Esa Tikkanen and Claude Lemieux, although Lemieux certainly had his share of cheap shots too. We can maybe throw Matthew Barnaby in there, but even he’s borderline. That’s what happens when you do your best Italian soccer impression, faking an injury before jumping the goalie.

So maybe finding examples of the irritating but gentler breed of pest isn’t so easy, and the dividing line has shades of gray. But the distinction is there when we consider the other, far more hated brand of pest.

There are pests who are more than just pests; they’re villains, and every good plot needs a villain. As deep as our hatred can run for the likes of Lapierre, Sean Avery, Jarko Ruttu, and Matt Cooke, we need them.

We need them because we need conflict, and we want so badly for them to fail, and finally be set straight. The build-up to the conflict is long, yet so gratifying.

But this type of pest can go too far, and flirt with the line that separates being annoying from being cowardly. We’ve seen this repeatedly with Avery, whose all-star pest skills were on display again Sunday night.

The job of the pest is to be loathed by the opposing team, fans, media, and anyone else who wants to join in. It’s an elaborate act that requires a talented actor. The latest example of the act being taken too far may have come Tuesday night during Montreal’s win over Philadelphia, with Lapierre right where he belongs: at the centre of attention.

We’ll never know definitively what really went on at the bottom of that pile, but late in the game during a scrum Lapierre was on top of Flyers forward Scott Hartnell.

Hartnell said he was choked by Lapierre, and a denial from the Habs forward is no doubt forthcoming. There are many things that happen at the bottom of a pile that we don’t know about, and probably don’t want to know about, but certain lines just shouldn’t be crossed. If Hartnell’s accusation is true, this is clearly one of them.