Anyone wondering exactly how subjectivity and nuance can muddy the waters when it comes to head shots in hockey and how to eliminate them need look no further than the Bell Centre.
The aftermath of Pittsburgh’s 4-3 overtime win over the Montreal Canadiens on Saturday was one of remarkable contrasts.
One high-profile concussion victim resolutely unrepentant about planting his elbow into the kisser of a fellow professional on Friday, another taking a more conciliatory tack after a dangerous hit that connected with an opponent’s head.
The latter was Montreal’s Max Pacioretty, who should expect an audience with NHL disciplinarian Brendan Shanahan for a third-period check on Pens defenceman Kristopher Letang as he shaped for a shot in the Habs’ end.
It looked for all the world like a textbook blindside hit prohibited by rule 48 - Pacioretty coming in from Letang’s right and laying his shoulder and upper arm into Letang’s head.
There was no penalty called on the play despite Pittsburgh’s protests.
As the teams prepared for overtime, Pacioretty briefly went over to apologize to Letang - who by then had returned - and after the game went one further, explaining his version of the events.
“It’s a tough decision for me, it’s a tough decision for him too. He’s coming across the middle, unfortunately his head is down, I feel terrible about what happened. I didn’t see the replays, so I don’t know what the league will think of it. But if I let him take that shot it could be in the back of our net. It’s a tough decision for me, I thought I tried to keep it within the rules, but I haven’t seen the replay,” he said.
“I’ve been down that road, it’s a terrible feeling, I know (the Penguins) are probably going to want something to be done . . . (Letang) said he was good,” Pacioretty added.
The Connectictut native, who scored his 10th goal in the game, has made a remarkable recovery from his own harrowing experience with brain trauma - at the hands of Boston Bruins captain Zdeno Chara.
But his actions beg a difficult question: how is the game to address blows to the head when even those hurt badly by them find themselves on the accused’s bench?
Penguins superstar Sidney Crosby, playing on Canadian soil for the first time since suffering a concussion last January, didn’t exactly provide clarity on the subject when asked after the game about his elbow to the face of Ottawa Senators forward Nick Foligno during a post-whistle scrum on Friday.
Granted, that incident paled in comparison with Pacioretty’s hit on Letang, but Crosby is also being held to a higher standard given his prominence in the game and outspokenness about gratuitous head shots.
Foligno and the Senators publicly called out Crosby for hypocrisy following the incident, and on Saturday, Crosby shot back.
The gist of his argument: I knew what I was doing and it could have been worse.
“I don’t know what he expects after he runs the goalie three times. He’s probably lucky it was me that was handling it and not someone else so . . . I think if he’s going to do that, he should be ready to expect a response. Like I said, that’s a hockey scrum and he should expect that if he wants to play that way. Given the option to get my hands up the same way, I’ve got stick up for my goaltender as well. I’m sure he’s okay. I knew what I was doing. I was in control. I think he’s okay. He should be careful if he’s going to do that. Everyone knows you can’t touch the goalie.”