It’s time to play everybody’s favourite NHL game show, Guess the Shanaban!
Last night Chris Neil made Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Simon Despres go boom, and got a two minute minor penalty for it. Let’s have a look, break it down, then discuss.
The Senators dump the puck in the zone, and Simon Despres is the Penguins defenseman back to retrieve it. He senses back pressure, picks up the puck, and goes to wheel behind the net to avoid the pressure. F2 (in this case Chris Neil) would normally be reading off Despres and reacting (given Despres already has a pursuer), so the d-man doesn’t expect him to be coming too. Neil has his wheels going. He stops skating at the hashmarks, but has a lot of speed up already. He puts his shoulder into the shoulder/chest area of an unsuspecting Despres (catching some head after the initial body contact), and the contact is violent. He gets two minutes for charging.
I think we can all agree there will be no suspension here, and the fact that it’s Chris Neil and not Kyle Turris has a lot to do with the reaction. Neil hits to hurt, which as we’ve seen before, is still allowed in the NHL. Hitting to hurt is an intimidation tactic that forces players to make panic decisions with the puck instead of just holding on to it, which is why guys like Neil are employed. This is a big hit, a dangerous hit, but I think a legal one under the league’s current guidelines. I don’t think it’s charging, because you naturally skate around the rink, and he stopped once he had Despres lined up. All in all…I say clean.
In the comments, we’d love to hear if you think this was a malicious play, a hockey play, or something totally different. The caveat: as always with “Court of Public Opinion” posts, you have to honestly list your favourite team (I have no dog in the fight as an Isles guy). That doesn’t mean if you’re a Penguins fan and you think it was vicious and terrible that your opinion will be immediately discounted. I just think it helps with context.