A show of hands. How many of you have rooted for teams and supported hockey before the 21st century? If you’ve been around long enough, then you know how backwards the sport has become.
In the old days, the NHL was much tougher. If a player took liberties with someone, justice was taken care of on the ice. Players policed themselves. There was a lot more fighting in the 90’s than we see these days. If you grew up watching those games, you knew it would be taken care of.
As the game’s grown through expansion and internationally, the decline of the enforcer has been noticeable. There still are some heavyweights who’ll keep opponents honest. But hockey fights aren’t as common. Sometimes, all it takes is a thumping hit to put the opposition on notice.
That’s why Ryan Reaves is still an effective player despite the ridiculous assertion from veteran columnist Larry Brooks in a recent Slap Shots column. The hit in question was shoulder to chest despite catching Filip Hronek prone. Slow it down.
I guess some media who’ve covered much more chaotic games in the past have softened up. Given how the NHL rules now are due to head shots, it’s understandable. However, some big hits are still shoulder through chest catching unsuspecting players with their heads down.
The clearest example remains what Scott Stevens did to Eric Lindros early in Game Seven of the 2000 Eastern Conference Final between the Devils and Flyers. Of course, that was a different era. Poor Lindros skated with the puck and had his head on a swivel when he crossed the Devils blue line. He suffered a concussion that delayed the game stunning the pro Flyers crowd. Lindros would take the entire ’00-01 season off before continuing his career with the Rangers.
Whether you loved or hated him, Stevens was a ferocious open ice hitter who prided himself on catching guys with their heads down. It was a big part of the game. Even now two decades later, it still is relevant. Or maybe you haven’t seen Jacob Trouba deliver a big hit to an opponent that impacts the game. Such hitting can change the momentum or even a series as his hit on Sidney Crosby did during the Rangers’ first round series against the Penguins.
Trouba recently leveled Andreas Athanasiou in a heated game between the Blackhawks and Rangers. He also had another one. He was made accountable twice with fights for what were clean hits. I didn’t see Brooks complain about either. Nor did he ever critique Reaves when he earned his pay as a Blueshirt.
A visibly frustrated Trouba sent a message to his emotionless team. They were losing to the league’s worst team at home. If you’ve watched the Blackhawks even with Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews, they’re miserable. However, they did come into MSG and get a win that saw the struggling Rangers booed off the ice. The same game Trouba had a few choice words for the bench before slamming his stick near the end of the second period.
As has been documented here and in many spaces, Trouba has had his struggles. The first-year Rangers captain has clearly not been the same player we saw last season. He’s been playing hurt. That’s resulted in unsteady defensive play and goals against where he’s been on for. It hasn’t been pretty. However, Trouba never makes any excuses. He continues to take regular shifts even if coach Gerard Gallant had to adjust his defense pairs in a comeback win over the Devils that seemed to energize his club.
Since that exciting 4-3 overtime win over the Devils, the Rangers haven’t lost a game. In fact, they were able to end a skid by posting an ugly 6-4 win over the Blues. Then followed that up with key road victories over the Golden Knights and Avalanche. Even if both teams were down some key stars, it was important for them to get those road wins for their psyche.
But it was that one-goal home win over their close Hudson rival that really gave them a confidence boost. They twice rallied back from two-goal deficits to earn the victory on an overtime goal by Filip Chytil. A player who’s been instrumental in the team’s turnaround.
During a season high seven-game win streak that was highlighted by a 3-1 triumph over the Maple Leafs where they snapped Mitch Marner’s 23-game point streak (11-21-32), Chytil even scored a rare power play goal. The first for the second unit that hardly ever gets much ice time due to a top unit comprised of Mika Zibanejad, Chris Kreider, Artemi Panarin, Vincent Trocheck and power play quarterback Adam Fox.
For once, Gallant was able to put the second unit on earlier. With some good puck movement down low between Alexis Lafreniere and Kaapo Kakko with Vitaly Kravtsov in front, Chytil converted a nice Kakko pass for his first power play goal since Jan. 2, 2020.
Even with some of the injuries he’s had, that’s a long time without one. When asked about it, he was happy to finally score on the power play. But heaped praise on the top unit. Proving the 23-year old former 2017 first round pick is a mature player who sees the big picture.
If there’s been one lineup move that has worked, it was Gallant deciding to reunite Chytil with Lafreniere and Kakko. The difference is he’s using them like a top line at even strength. The cohesive 21 and over trio have been an effective unit at five-on-five. Something that started late last season and continued during the playoffs.
Their play helped the Rangers get past the Pens and Hurricanes into the Conference Finals. They even were good in the first two games of that series before the Lightning put the clamps down.
After they defeated the Flyers for a sixth consecutive win, they avenged the ugly 5-2 loss to Chicago by running away with a 7-1 victory in the windy city last night. During the first period where they didn’t play well, it was Chytil who scored his eighth and later set up Kakko’s eighth on a terrific passing play that also involved Lafreniere.
They went from being scoreless with an awful opponent to getting three straight goals over a 5:59 span to take a 3-0 lead after one period. In between, Panarin converted for a second consecutive game off a nice Fox pass to also net his eighth. Eights were wild.
Unfortunately, Chytil was caught by Blackhawks forward Sam Lafferty who delivered a late, high hit that sent the Rangers center to the ice in pain. Having already suffered a likely concussion earlier this season that kept him out six games, it wasn’t good. He exited the game and never returned.
That likely meant concussion protocol. Obviously, it’s frustrating to see Chytil go down on a questionable hit. He passed the puck from behind the net in front for Kakko when Lafferty belted him.
The issue is it was delivered high and made contact with Chytil’s face. Dangerously close to being a head shot. Combine that with where he was and the impact sent him with his head exposed against the glass where there’s no protection. That makes it reckless.
Of course, there was nothing called during the game. Predictably, Player Safety didn’t discipline Lafferty for the hit. Why would they? They’re too busy punishing players for high sticks.
The issue here is Tomas Hertl got two games for defending himself following cross checks from Elias Lindholm that weren’t penalized off a face-off. Yes. He high-sticked Lindholm. But is it worse than what Lafferty did to Chytil?
I strongly disagree with the league. They always preach about protecting players. They rarely do. How many more times will hits like the one Lafferty delivered that injured Chytil be allowed? Why does George Parros have a job? Better yet. Why does good old boy Colin Campbell continue to cash a paycheck when he’s the poster boy for defending the indefensible?
This has gone on for way too long. Supplementary discipline doesn’t work because it’s inconsistent. They don’t hold every player to the same standard. If they did, Sidney Crosby would’ve been suspended multiple times for incidents earlier in his brilliant career. Yes. Most superstars get the star treatment. There’s a double standard.
What can’t be understood is why a Lafferty can escape unscathed. His hit was a tad late and too high to be considered a legal check. That’s why Chytil left the game. If he doesn’t play on Tuesday night at Pittsburgh, we’ll know why. Then the Rangers host the Islanders on Thursday before the Christmas break.
Chytil has shown improvement. He’s become a key player for the Rangers. With eight goals and nine assists for 17 points and a plus-10 rating in 25 games, it’s the play of the Czech that’s provided a spark for his younger line mates. Now, we’re seeing what they can do.
Hopefully, Chytil doesn’t miss any time. But when Gallant signals the usual “day-to-day” to describe the status of Fil, that’s not very reassuring. Let’s hope for the best.
We know Player Safety doesn’t care. They never will.
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