It was old-time hockey at its finest, but you wouldn’t have known it by the Rangers' reaction—immediately going after Blunden as if he murdered their center.
The question is: what were they so angry about?
If the main purpose of fighting in hockey is to deter cheap shots and maintain a relatively honest battle, then why did all hell break loose at MSG because of an open ice shoulder check?
Aside from the fact that Blunden stepped onto the ice too early, which resulted in a Canadiens "Too Many Men" penalty, there was nothing wrong with the hit; it was reminiscent of a Scott Stevens special in the '90s and early part of this century—but you didn't see nearly as many brawls break out as a result of his open ice hits.
It seems as though open ice hitting has become less and less accepted among NHL players these days, which makes you wonder if the league's effort to crack down on head shots is causing paranoia and unnecessarily affecting other areas of the game.
It’s ironic because many people feared the increased suspensions handed down by NHL disciplinary sheriff Brendan Shannahan would cause a general fear of hitting among the players. Instead, it’s the teams on the receiving end of the clean hits that seem to be offended by these checks.
Perhaps the Rangers, who decided to jump Michael Blunden, need to be given a refresher by Mr. Shannahan on the differences between a legal and illegal hit. After all, Shannahan is only trying to make the game safer. He’s not trying to remove hitting from the game all together—it just seems like many of the players are attempting to do just that without even knowing it.
Ask yourself this question: When was the last time you saw a big open ice hit without a mauling, challenge or retaliation of the deliverer?
Perhaps my memory isn’t as sharp as yours, but I can’t think of an instance in the last few years where a huge open ice body check was simply accepted as a natural part of the game by the opposition.
In fact, at the exact same time as the Rangers-Canadiens game was happening in New York, the Toronto Maple Leafs were playing host to the Boston Bruins in a game that saw Dion Phaneuf level Chris Kelly in the third period, only to have the game stopped after Kelly’s teammates jumped in.
Now, if you click on the linked video, you’ll notice the hit came in the late stages of a blowout, so perhaps the retaliation from Boston is slightly more understandable. However, the fact remains that NHL teams need to remember that not every action and physical play warrants a reaction.
Take P.K. Subban, for example. Subban was sent head-over-heels by Capitals star Alexander Ovechkin in a game last season and Subban retaliated. However, give Subban credit for eventually realizing that he was wrong to go after Ovechkin. He admitted that his emotions got the best of him during his postgame interview. At least Subban hasn’t forgotten that you have to be willing to take as much as you dish out.
At the end of the day, the stiffer suspensions for illegal checks are only in place to protect the players—not to deter clean hitting. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with players policing themselves too, but players must remain cognizant of the hitting rules and laws, as, again, not every physical play from the opposition warrants an equal or greater reaction.
This article also appears on Bottom Line Hockey