Penguins vs. Islanders: When Does "Goonery" Cross the Line?

Steve StrausbaughContributor IFebruary 11, 2011

UNIONDALE, NY - FEBRUARY 11: The New York Islanders and the Pittsburgh Penguins mix it up during the second period on February 11, 2011 at Nassau Coliseum in Uniondale, New York.  (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

There is only one word that comes to mind when reflecting on this game tonight: embarrassing.

All hockey fans know that "goonery" is part of the game, but tonight's game seems to have crossed a line. Some call it "old-time hockey" but modern fans call it something more like a melee.

There was bad blood between the two teams coming in to tonight's game. In their last meeting with the Penguins, the Islanders lost their top goalie, Rick DiPietro, to an injury that he provoked. Late in the game DiPietro stepped to the side of the net and took a cheap shot at the Penguins Matt Cooke. DiPietro ended up squaring off with Penguins goaltender Brent Johnson, and subsequently suffered a broken face, which will sideline him four to six weeks. Max Talbot was also on the targeted list since he had taken a supposed cheap shot at an Islanders player earlier in the season as well.

Fans from both sides knew that tonight would be an interesting game, but what ensued was an embarrassment to the league. The Islanders were strong on the scoresheet early, but decided to start taking liberties at Penguins players.

Matt Martin trailed Talbot up ice following a play and, as replays confirmed, tried to take a cheap shot from behind on punching Talbot's head. Luckily for Talbot, he saw Martin coming from behind at the last second and avoided what could have been a nasty shot to the head. A scrum ensued and three different fights broke out following the incident. Josh Bailey, Pascal Dupuis, Travis Hamonic, Michael Rupp, Deryk Engelland and Matt Martin were all given game misconducts and ejected from the game.

Later in the game, Michael Haley decided to go after Talbot again. Apparently that wasn't good enough for him, though, as he skated the length of the ice to engage Penguins goalie Brent Johnson. Being that there was a scrum going on in the other end that all other players were consumed with, Eric Godard had no choice but to come off the bench to protect his goalie.

Godard will most likely receive the automatic 10-game suspension from the NHL for this. Dan Bylsma, head coach of the Penguins, will also receive a fine and possible suspension from the league, for a player leaving the bench during a fight.

Another incident had Islanders player Trevor Gillies going after Penguins player Eric Tangradi. Gillies violently elbowed Tangradi in the head and then proceeded to begin punching him, though Tangradi was obviously reeling from the elbow to his head. Another melee between the two teams followed this incident. Gillies was ushered off the ice to a nearby door in the boards, where he continued to taunt Tangradi. After the game it was reported that Tangradi was suffering from concussion-like symptoms.

The game was marred by Islanders players taking runs at the Penguins goalies, taunting Marc-Andre Fleury when he replaced Brent Johnson in goal, and many more smaller incidents after whistles and scrums around the goal creases. Many people on the social networking sites were thinking that the teams' coaches might even have a fight break out, though it never really came close to that.

Possibly one of the most disturbing things about all of this is how the fans were rejoicing in it. In the arena, and on social networking sites, Islanders fans were proud of how their team handled the game. This begs the question, how is intentionally trying to injure another human being ever a good thing? Concussions and injuries are no laughing matter, and when achieved by taking cheap shots, it only makes things that much worse.

There is a place for retaliation and fighting in hockey, but this game tonight did not display the way it is supposed to be carried out. This viewpoint is not lost on the fact that Penguins player Matt Cooke, who is also known for doing the cheap shot deed quite often, should be held accountable, too. The game tonight served up 351 penalty minutes, which is still unconfirmed at this point.

The spirit of fighting and retaliation should never be carried out the way it was tonight. Suspensions are sure to follow.