Andy Sutton's Hit on Jordan Leopold: Clean or Cheap?

Laura FalconAnalyst IApril 17, 2010

All it takes is a second-long distraction.

Unfortunately for Jordan Leopold, he made it two and the result was one of the nastiest open-ice collisions of the playoffs thus far.

After receiving a D to D pass from Alex Goligoski, Leopold started a rush to the offensive zone when Nick Foligno attempted to poke the puck away from him. Preoccupied with maintaining possession, Leopold didn't notice a bulldozing Andy Sutton who laid out an explosive hit that sent Leopold to the ice like a limp rag doll .

The boos viciously rained down in Mellon Arena as Leopold lay still on the ice while a scrum ensued at the red line. The sight was a familiar one for the crowd; Sutton was already on the hate train for the Penguins' faithful after his boarding hit on Pascal Dupuis in January led to a two-game suspension .

The boos switched to cheers as Leopold managed to get on his feet and skate to the dressing room on his own power. However, the cheers reverted back to boos when all realized that Sutton was not thrown out of the game for the hit.

The response was a physical onslaught by the Pens who laid out a total of 52 hits on the Senators, each player on the Pens, save goalie Marc-Andre Fleury, registering at least one hit.

The new-found physicality, along with the heroics of Crosby, led the team to a 2-1 win over the Senators to tie the series.

I would argue that Sutton's hit on Leopold not only got the Pens going, but the crowd as well.

The Pens now have a villain on their hands. Nothing beats a little hate to pump up the energy in an arena during the playoffs.

But loyalties aside, was the hit clean or cheap?

The only possible penalties that could have been assessed on the play are charging, elbowing, interference, or the new no-headshot rule.

We can easily eliminate interference because Leopold had the puck.

Sutton took about three strides to get to Leopold and didn't leave his skates during the hit. That takes care of the charging call.

Those were easy to do away with, now it gets tricky.

I noticed this Ron Cook article from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette this morning :

"The Penguins should get more good news today. If the NHL doesn't suspend Sutton for at least one game, it will be a crime because he led with his elbow. Sutton is a repeat head-shots offender..."

Some of the Pens during postgame interviews also thought that a forearm or elbow was raised on contact, but a closer look at the play shows that Sutton's elbow was tucked in at his side. Sutton's elbow came up during the follow-through as he fell into the penalty box, but unless you want him to break the laws of physics, that's exactly what's going to happen.

However, at no point was Sutton's elbow aiming for Leopold's head so there's no elbowing call.

That leaves the new no-headshot rule. This is where I've seen most spectators like Cook calling foul. I feel he needs to take another look at the NHL rulebook before making such strong statements.

According to the NHL rulebook, the rule is only applicable when the hit is "a lateral, back-pressure, or blind-side hit to an opponent where the head is targeted and/or the principal point of contact."

The hit was not lateral, from behind, nor from the blind side. In fact, Sutton came in front of Leopold who could not see him because he was busy trying to settle the puck Foligno bumped from his stick.

Thus, I can only deem this hit clean, but very unfortunate. I hate seeing players, especially players from the Pens, get hurt. Leopold was really finding his feet with the Pens and was finding the net at clutch times.

The whole situation is very unfortunate, but you can't blame Sutton because Leopold had his head down. That hit needs to be made or Sutton isn't doing his job.

We all know that the boos will be present when Sutton comes back to Mellon Arena for Game 5. Let them come if people so choose to act; like I said before, a little hate never hurts anyone.

Just remember what booing Crosby does when he visits the Wachovia and Verizon Center.

By no means am I comparing the two players, I just hope that fans are aware that booing the other team tends to only bring the bad karma.

I think this hit brought out a necessary bad side to the Pens and snapped the team out of their very lackluster play up until that point.

If the Pens can build off of the frustration from seeing one of their players go down as they did the rest of Game 2, then they'll be in good shape.

All I have left to say is stop the fussing and let the Pens respond with their play.

Series on.