During the Pittsburgh Penguins game against the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden, Pens' center Jordan Staal received a match penalty after sending a gloved fist to the Rangers' Brandon Prust's chin, who immediately fell to the ice in a daze.
Pens fans, already frustrated with the fact that centers Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Mark Letestu were already out with injuries and illness, felt that Prust hit the ice a little too easily for what looked like a weak swing to the face. Many, even outside of the Penguins fanbase, were proclaiming the fall was an embellishment.
Prust noted that "[Staal] just caught me on my sweet spot and kind of dropped me for a second. He kind of rung my bell." Whether Prust was milking the fall will remain unknown and Staal's status for the Pens' game against the New York Islanders on Wednesday remains unknown as well.
This incident brings up an interesting topic that has been a focal point in the discussion of NHL players and their integrity as professional athletes.
I'm referring to the topic of dives and embellishments: Are they dishonorable to the honorable game of hockey—or do they provide a sneaky strategy to help swing the momentum and potentially win games?
As hockey fans, I feel the majority agree the blatantly and disgracefully obvious open-ice dives will never be welcome in hockey, let alone the NHL, and some will go further to say this applies to embellishments as well.
But after the Staal/Prust incident, I think it deserves another look.
Dives and embellishments are like cousins: related but definitely not the same.
Dives have a more negative connotation because it involves more "fakeness" from the athletes while embellishments are the exaggeration of the effects of a penalty committed by the opposition—after all, divers are quickly associated with floppers in the soccer world (certainly not a positive thing).
If caught, embellishers, however, aren't crucified nearly as much, and there's an interesting reason for it.
Imagine this scenario: Player A is skating down the ice with Player B hot on his trail. Player B tries to lift Player A's stick but accidentally pops the stick to Player A's mouth.
Regardless of any kind of injury that takes place, the referee will have to whistle down the play because of the high stick infraction. We all know that a stick to the face is a no-go in the NHL.
But what if the ref doesn't see it it?
Sometimes a player will jerk his head back just a little extra to make sure the refs see the illegal play taking place. Deciphering when a player does this on purpose or by accident may be tricky because we do not know how each player reacts in certain penalty situations.
So how right (if at all) is it to act this way?
The opposition has the same argument as the divers and it's a strong and very valid point.
On the other hand, should a penalty not be called based on the physical toughness of one player? The penalty still occurred and the player committing the penalty could strike again—but do more damage the next time.
Obviously the NHL doesn't want this.
If done appropriately, could embellishing be seen as pointing out a penalty in an inconspicuously-conspicuous way?
Looking back at the Penguins/Rangers game Tuesday evening, Staal sent a solid hit to Prust's mouth and he fell right to the ice. As stated earlier, there was speculation that Prust embellished the hit.
For the sake of discussion, let's assume he did embellish the effects of the punch.
When someone gets laid out because of a punch not from an actual bout, the refs will take notice. They certainly took notice because they gave Staal a match penalty which put the Rangers on a five-minute power play.
The Rangers may not have benefited as a whole in the game, but that was more of the Pens' ability to fight back even when down on the jumbotron and in bodies.
Say Prust remained level and retaliated with a hit of his own. The refs could have just as easily sent Prust to the penalty box for a retaliatory penalty. Instead, Prust kept his cool and the Rangers benefited with an extended period of power play time.
Could that be viewed as good strategy? It's very possible, especially since Staal was banned from finishing the game because of the match penalty. Taking Staal out of a game where Crosby, Malkin, Letestu and Arron Asham were sitting out is a great accomplishment for the opposing team.
Hockey is constantly emphasized for its toughness and fans are quite proud of the toughness of each athlete. But for the sake of winning, is it ever worth showing some "weakness" so as to take advantage of players playing against the rules?
What about in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final?
Should players shy away from embellishing for the sake of honor or will they let themselves fall to the ice when a defenseman accidentally gets his stick between another player's legs in the middle of overtime?
Honor and integrity are incredibly important in an NHL game, but is making sure the game is played fairly a knock on either of those?
I think it could go either way.
In the end, there is nothing more the NHL can do about the regulation of embellishments and dives because there are already rules in place. Players do both on a regular basis and they will continue to do both because it has become a part of the NHL.
They just better not get caught or things could backfire.
Laura Falcon is a Featured Columnist for the Pittsburgh Penguins. Follow her on Twitter or email her at email@example.com with any comments or questions.
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