Washington Capitals: NHL Must Show Consistency With Discipline

For the second time in as many games between the Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins, a controversial hit took center stage.

The second round series between the Washington Capitals and the Pittsburgh Penguins is unfortunately putting the NHL’s Department of Player Safety at the forefront of the discussion during the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

After Capitals defenseman Brooks Orpik was suspended for three games following a hearing for a hit on the Penguins’ Olli Maatta, many were finally happy to see the DoPS – who usually are inconsistent and laughable, providing slaps on the wrist for dirty hits – come down on a player who rightfully deserved to sit for an unnecessary play.

Anyone who thought that this might be a deterrent for head-hunting in the playoffs, it turns out, was sorely mistaken.

While Orpik served the first game of his suspension, Penguins defenseman Kris Letang launched himself into Washington Capitals’ forward Marcus Johansson’s head as the latter crossed the blue line. Johansson stayed down after the whistle, and would miss the remainder of the first period before returning in the second.

While it should be noted that Letang’s hit was noticeably less-late than Orpik’s offense, it was still a targeted shot to the head of a vulnerable player.

Johansson mentioned following the game that he had a sore neck, and subsequently missed practice earlier today, and will be looked at again tomorrow.

Though Johansson returned to action in the game, his absence from practice – whether it is due to a potential injury stemming from the hit or a bit more of a calculated move by the team – does not bode well for Letang.

Though I will not sit here and claim that Letang should receive a suspension equal to Orpik’s, there is no doubt that the NHL needs to show some consistency and make sure that Letang is sitting for the next game or two.

These headshots are the types of plays that need to be removed from the sport. Though it is impossible to avoid these types of collisions at all times, targeted shots such as the one last night, as well as Orpik’s, need to be addressed and dealt with harshly.

Washington Capitals head coach Barry Trotz made some pretty puzzling comments yesterday about the state of officiating – particularly in this series. It would be wise to remove the idea from your head that the referees are favoring one team or another. However, if the DoPS provides an underwhelming punishment for another dirty hit, it will only fuel the fire.

However, this series is quickly providing the NHL’s committee on player safety with opportunities to show that they are capable of making the hard, but correct, decisions on this types of hits. It’s time for them to set a solid precedent.