By Allan Muir
The first suspension has come down after a series of violent events marred Saturday night's game between Boston and Pittsburgh.
The NHL's Department of Player Safety on Monday suspended Penguins forward James Neal five games for kneeing Boston's Brad Marchand in the head.
The decision must have come as a huge surprise to Neal, who, after the game, claimed no ill intent. "I need to be more careful and I guess get my knee out of the way, but I'm not trying to hit him in the head or injure him or anything like that," he said.
But league safety czar Brendan Shanahan, displaying no evidence of having fallen off a turnip truck recently, wasn't buying Neal's golly-gee act.
"With a clear view of Marchand and plenty of time to avoid him, Neal skates directly through Marchand's head with his left knee," Shanahan explains in the league's suspension video. "This is more serious than simply not avoiding contact with a fallen player. Neal turns his skates and extends his left leg, ensuring contact is made with Marchand's head."
A five-game suspension is the longest Neal could have received with a phone hearing, and the speed with which it was delivered suggests Shanahan didn't see a lot of room for interpretation on the call.
As harsh as it was, it could have been worse for Neal, who now has some free time to get his Christmas shopping done, but about $128,000 less to spend on gifts. Marchand was not seriously injured on the play--if he'd been stretchered off, Neal would have been looking at an in-person hearing and probably 10 games. And his previous brushes with the DOPS (a fine and two suspensions, including one in the 2012 playoffs) couldn't be counted against him under the terms of the new CBA, so he dodged a couple of bullets there.
Still, it's a fairly significant suspension given the circumstances, and doesn't bode well for Boston's Shawn Thornton, who is out of action indefinitely while awaiting his own in-person meeting with Shanahan. Considering both the insanity of his actions (he slew-footed Brooks Orpik and then punched him twice in the head while the Penguins defenseman was down) and the immediate repercussions (Orpik was hospitalized after being knocked out by the Bruins' enforcer), Thornton is probably looking at 10 games. Anything less would be shocking.
CAZENEUVE: Penguins, Bruins on dark corner where NHL rules and The Code meet