Alex Ovechkin took a wrist shot in Game Two that hit Ron Hainsey in the face. Hainsey was okay, but reports out of Pittsburgh suggested that Penguins players thought that Ovechkin was reckless and may have targeted Hainsey with the shot.
Then Sidney Crosby left Game Three following a hit by Matt Niskanen, and now one Penguins player is accusing a Caps player of felony assault. Again.
(One obvious point as an aside: if Alex Ovechkin possessed the accuracy to target a shot at a player’s face, he would use that accuracy to instead put the puck in the net. The unnamed accuser in Yohe’s story was being grandiose, and he is plainly wrong.)
Now here’s the Crosby hit.
If you’re watching in slow motion, you see a vicious hit targeting Crosby’s head. If you’re watching at full speed, you see an quick and unfortunate reflex made by Niskanen as 200 lbs. of off-balance Cole Harbour meat barreled towards him.
“I wasn’t even trying to cross-check him with a serious amount of force,” Matt Niskanen recounted after the game. “A collision was gonna happen there in the crease. When the play first starts I think my stick’s at about his arm level probably, right away where the numbers are on the side of his jersey.”
“Because he’s trying to make the play he’s getting lower and lower, getting pressured and trying to score so the collision happened there.”
Capitals head coach Barry Trotz had a similar impression.
“I thought it was really a hockey play,” Trotz said. “If you look at it, Sid’s coming across and Holts throws his stick out there, he sorta gets split and he’s coming down and Nisky has to go to the back post because that’s where the puck’s going. [Crosby] just sorta ran into [Niskanen].”
“There’s no reaction to it,” Trotz said. “Unfortunately, Sid got injured there. I don’t know if a guy in that situation wanted to go to throw his hands over his head. It’s just hockey. It’s a hockey play. Unfortunately he got hurt.”
Penguins forward Chris Kunitz saw it differently.
“You look at it once and you see what actually happened,” Kunitz said. “I think the next thing is watching how deliberate it was when the guy kind of cross-checks him in the face.”
“I thought all that was kind of out of this league,” Kunitz added, describing head-targeting hits that he’s been suspended for several times in his career, “but I guess not.”
Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan took a different path, choosing stoicism instead of accusations. “I’d rather not share my opinion on [it],” Sullivan said.
Sullivan gave no update on Crosby’s status. He said Crosby will be evaluated over night.
For his part, Matt Niskanen may be considered for supplemental discipline by the league. In his post-game scrum, Niskanen did not discuss the risk of suspension. Instead he offered well-wishes for Crosby.
“I hope he’s okay,” Niskanen concluded. “I didn’t mean to injure him. It’s an unfortunate play that happened real quick.”
Additional reporting by Chris Gordon and Ian Oland
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