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Sunday afternoon in Pittsburgh, an incident occurred during the game between the Penguins and the Washington Capitals. At 8:27 of the second period, Pittsburgh defenseman Zbynek Michalek and forward Matt Hendricks of the Washington Capitals were chasing a loose puck in the Washington end of the ice. Michalek trailed Hendricks on the play, and as the players arrived at the puck, Michalek lifted his elbow and forearm to the back of Hendricks’ head and propelled him into the end glass. This is elbowing.
As the video shows, Michalek has Hendricks lined up for what could and should be a clean and hard body check. However, he uses his elbow to deliver a hit on Hendricks. This is a violation of the elbowing rule, which states: 'The referee, at his discretion, may assess a minor penalty, based on the degree of violence, to a player guilty of elbowing an opponent.” The referee exercised his discretion and called Michalek for elbowing Hendricks.
Although both players are pursuing the puck, the act of elbowing causes contact to Hendrick’s neck and head. Some interpretations of the video record indicate that as Michalek closed in on Hendricks, his knee hit Hendricks’ leg and caused Michalek to lose balance and lurch into Hendricks. It is as good an explanation as any.
Often when players are competing for or racing a loose puck, a violent collision will ensue as a result. This is one of those occasions. The fact that Michalek’s elbow made contact with Hendricks’ head was incidental to the play, and besides, in addition to “losing balance,” a situation I encountered often as a player (wink), as Michalek himself noted, “I know that I made a bad play and maybe I was still a little bit mad about the hit before [from Alex Ovechkin]. That’s how it is.”
There are occasions when violent collisions, even ones involving elbows in an opponent’s neck and head, just happen. That’s how it is. There also are occasions when a player is fresh from a hit he has taken, and takes out his anger on an opponent when the opportunity presents itself, either intentionally or unintentionally. That’s how it is.
We accept Michalek’s assertion that, “that’s how it is.” This absolves Michalek of any further responsibility for any contact to the head. It is important to note that Michalek has never been suspended by the league for prior transgressions or violations of the rules. He is not a repeat offender. Having been absolved as an offender in this instance, he cannot be a “repeat offender” if he should be involved in a similar incident in the future. On the other hand, Matt Hendricks is a tough guy and should just have just rubbed some spit on it and skated off.
To summarize: The players were competing for a loose puck. Michalek trailed the play and, as the players arrived at the puck, Michalek’s knee struck Hendricks’ leg, causing Michalek to lose balance and lurch forward, elbowing Hendricks in the back of the head and neck. Michalek was called for a penalty. However, he has never been suspended by the league and thus is not a “repeat offender.” We did not think the incident was much of a penalty, for that matter.
The department of player safety has decided against suspending Zbynek Michalek for his elbowing Matt Hendricks.
That’s how it is.