Montreal Canadiens forward Max Pacioretty is going to take his medicine for an illegal hit on Pittsburgh's Kristopher Letang, but that doesn't mean he especially likes the taste of it The forward will watch the three games of the Habs' California road swing from the press box after NHL disciplinarian Brendan Shanahan mandated a suspension for a hit late in Saturday's game, a 4-3 Pittsburgh win.
But Pacioretty says he's been left confused by several assertions made by Shanahan, who he said compared the incident to the Pens' Matt Cooke's infamous blindside hit on Boston centre Marc Savard.
“I think that couldn't be any further from the truth. If you looked at the situation, me and Letang made eye contact, and I think that's what gave me the green light to try and hit him. I felt he put himself in a vulnerable position, maybe I shouldn't have even thought about hitting him because of the way the wind is blowing right with head shots, but I'd like to see a little bit of consistency,” he said Tuesday. “If the onus is on the hitter every single time I'd be fine with a suspension, but you 've seen instances where they've placed the onus on the person receiving the hit as well so I'm confused and a lot of other players are confused right now.”
Pacioretty may have a quibble, given Cooke arrived from behind Savard and that the puck was long gone - whereas it had barely left Letang's stick when Pacioretty arrived from an area of the ice where Letang will have seen him coming (Shanahan admitted as much).
And he may be left shaking his head for another reason. While Shanahan said it was Pacioretty's responsibility to avoid hitting Letang's head - despite the latter putting himself in a vulnerable position - earlier this year he put the onus on Montreal defenceman Chris Campoli to have his head up in deciding not to discipline Tampa's Ryan Malone for a pre-season hit where the big Lightning winger delivered a blow directly to Campoli's head.
Shanahan might argue that the Malone hit was a north-south incident whereas the Pacioretty-Letang collision was east-west, or that the position of Campoli's head changed whereas Letang's didn't. Still, it's the sort of nuance - along with the fact that the league saw fit to give a pass for head shots involving Boston's Milan Lucic and the New York Rangers' Wojtek Wolski earlier this season, that has players scratching their heads.
“It's tough to agree with (the decision) when you see a lot of other things that have happened, but I've obviously got to just keep my mouth shut and take it right now,” Pacioretty told reporters in Anaheim.
He later added that the incident could change the way he plays: “to be completely honest with you, I've been scared to hit people out there. A lot of times you're going in on the forecheck and the defenceman turns his back to you . . . it's a fast game, injuries are going to happen, that's why it's tough on someone who is expected to finish their hits.
At the same time, Pacioretty said he accepts the ruling.
“The blame's on me, I made a bad decision . . . down the road I'm definitely not going to make that hit when someone's coming through the middle, but I don't see why I should give him a free pass to come through the zone like that and get a free shot on net,” he said, adding that his whole life he's been told that wingers should step up in that situation.
If the penalty seems to steep to many Canadiens fans, Letang thinks it's just about right.
“I think it's a fair amount of games,” he told reporters in New York, where the Penguins play the Rangers on Tuesday.
Letang said he hasn't experienced much in the way of concussion symptoms since the hit - only a little fatigue - and that his broken nose won't stop him playing as long as he has medical clearance. Team doctors gave Letang a baseline test after the hit, and he said he has completed it several times in the intervening days.
Nor does the Montreal native, who came back from the hit to score a controversial overtime winner, harbour any animosity toward Pacioretty.
“I'm not (angry) at him, I don't think he's a dirty player,” Letang said on the team's website. “I don't think he's out there to hurt anyone, but you have to be responsible of your actions on the ice . . . it's about the safety of the players.”