The NHL suspended New York Islanders forwards Trevor Gillies for nine games and Matt Martin for four while slapping the club with a US$100,000 fine late Saturday night for their actions in a fight-filled win over the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Enforcer Eric Godard was the lone Penguin punished by the league, receiving an automatic 10-game suspension for leaving the bench Friday night to join a third-period brawl.
Gillies’ ban was for delivering a blow to the head of Penguins forward Eric Tangradi and punching him several times. Tangradi has concussion-like symptoms that will keep him out for at least Sunday’s game against the New York Rangers.
Martin was suspended for punching Penguins forward Max Talbot from behind.
Already dealing with a growing number of concussions, including one to Penguins captain Sidney Crosby that has kept him sidelined since early January, the NHL is taking serious measures to punish head contact.
“The actions by the Islanders’ Gillies and Martin were deliberate attempts to injure by delivering blows to the head of players who were unsuspecting and unable to defend themselves,” league disciplinarian Colin Campbell said in a statement. “The message should be clear to all players: targeting the head of an opponent by whatever means will be dealt with by suspension.”
The low-budget Islanders were hit hard financially by Campbell, who said the team “must bear some responsibility for their failure to control their players.”
Godard’s was the easiest sentence to hand out as the penalty for his actions is explicitly stated in the league rule book (Rule 70.11). Although he appeared to be coming to the defence of goalie Brent Johnson, who was charged by New York’s Micheal Haley for a fight, that didn’t alter the punishment.
“There can be no circumstance that allows for a player to leave his bench for the purpose of coming to the aid of a teammate,” Campbell said.
Gillies will lose $24,193 in salary, Martin will be docked $41,585, and Godard will give up $40,322.
The Penguins’ rough weekend in New York got a little bumpier earlier Saturday when the team bus hit a car while heading to an outdoor practice.
In the morning hours following the 9-3 loss to the Islanders on Friday, the Penguins suited up—full gear minus skates—at Madison Square Garden, where they will play the Rangers on Sunday.
They took a bus for the short trip to Central Park, but were derailed by the minor accident. The players left the bus and hailed cabs to take them to the makeshift practice.
“It was quite a sight,” Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said. “I think the gentleman involved with the accident backed off a little bit when he saw a whole hockey team get out with sticks and gloves in their hands.
“If he had known anything about last night, maybe that’s why he backed off.”
The Pens-Islanders game produced 346 penalty minutes, 10 ejections, 15 fighting majors and 20 misconducts.
The Islanders came into the game angry because of the previous meeting between the teams nine days earlier, a game that featured a fight between New York goalie Rick DiPietro and Johnson. DiPietro broke bones in his face when Johnson hit him with one punch.
Also, a questionable but unpenalized hit by Talbot against Blake Comeau, that has left the Islanders forward out of action since, made Talbot a target in the rematch. He was jumped and punched by Martin in the second period, sparking the first of two major brawls.
“Obviously, you never expect to get grabbed by the guy and get punched like that,” Talbot said. “I don’t think I’m a guy that would stand down if someone comes to my face and asks me.”
Talbot also took on Haley in the third period in the second part of fight night.
The teams will conclude the six-game season series on Long Island on April 8. The Penguins could be the angry bunch then.
“We don’t like them and they don’t like us,” Pittsburgh forward Pascal Dupuis said. “It shows on the ice. But we have plenty of hockey between here and that game. We’ll see what’s going to happen.”
Johnson was rushed by Haley, who skated down the ice to challenge the goalie to a fight. Godard joined the fray and is now facing the consequences.
Bylsma said he told players not to hop onto the ice. The rule stipulates that the first player to leave the bench during a fight or to start one shall be suspended automatically for 10 games.
“I am aware of the rule, but at that moment you’re not thinking about what the things are,” Godard said. “I just saw him skating toward Johnny and I just kind of went.
“Ten games is pretty long, especially when we’re in a tough spot right now with a lot of guys out of the lineup. Yes, I regret it, but no, I am going to try to defend my teammates. I am kind of torn with that.”
Gillies was given an elbowing major and was ejected in the third after he charged Tangradi. The Penguins recalled forward Tim Wallace from Wilkes-Barre/Scranton of the AHL on Saturday in advance of Sunday’s game.
New York’s Zenon Konopka also had a hearing Saturday because of his involvement after he came onto the ice during a legal line change and joined an ongoing altercation. He received a roughing penalty and a misconduct during the third period but avoided any further discipline.
Haley didn’t have a hearing and wasn’t hit with a suspension a day after he was called up from Bridgeport of the AHL to make his NHL season debut on Friday. He had 144 penalty minutes in 50 games at Bridgeport this season.
“It was a pretty entertaining, emotional game. I was glad to be a part of it,” Haley said. “My job is to be ready when I get the call, come up and contribute any way I can.”
The Penguins knew what to expect from him.
“We knew what kind of player he was. He did basically what they brought him to do,” Dupuis said.