Their 4-2 win over the Boston Bruins saw all of the following take place:
- They overcame an early 2-0 deficit on the road, in a building where they have traditionally struggled to win.
- Danton Heinen snapped a lengthy goal-scoring drought by scoring two goals in 28 seconds after going 10 games without a goal (with some brutal open net misses mixed in).
- Sidney Crosby scored career goal No. 499 for the game-winner, inching him closer to his next career milestone.
- Tristan Jarry was money, stopping 43 out of 45 shots to continue his All-Star campaign and help the Penguins get two important points and snap a four-game losing streak on a night where they were not at their best.
- They also witnessed an all-time meltdown from Brad Marchand, who seemed to be frustrated by Jarry all night long. In the closing seconds of the Penguins win, Marchand punched Jarry in the side of the head after another big stop, and then when he was being escorted off the ice he swung his stuck at Jarry’s face. All of that earned Marchand a match penalty for intent to injure and an in-person hearing with the Department of Player Safety that is almost certainly going to result in a suspension of at least six games (or more).
Of course, the biggest talking point to emerge out of the game is the latter point, with a special emphasis on what the Penguins did (or did not) do. Social media was on fire with takes about the Penguins’ lack of a response to Marchand with some pretty intense takes.
On Wednesday, former Penguins forward Tyler Kennedy turned to the “video commentary while driving” take to share his thoughts and how it is important to not let players take liberties with your stars. He cited the infamous Matt Cooke-Evander Kane fight, and how he played different versus Detroit than he did against Philadelphia (a weird comparison to make given how good the Red Wings were during Kennedy’s playing days and how routinely they beat teams and won Stanley Cups playing the way they did, but whatever).
My stance on this has been fairly consistent throughout the years, and it only grows more intense with each passing year. I do not care about retaliating physically to the Brad Marchand’s of the world and getting your pound of flesh. Score on the power play you get. Beat them on the scoreboard. Knock them out of the playoffs. Keep winning games. But even more specific to this particular incident, what in the world were the Penguins supposed to do different in this situation?
Three of the five Penguins skaters on the ice did not even see Marchand’s initial punch to Jarry. The one player who did see it, defenseman Kris Letang, immediately tried to go after Marchand only to be held back by the referees. What, exactly, would you like to see happen here? Letang shove down a referee and miss 10 games while we talk about how he needs to be smarter in that situation? Is Sidney Crosby supposed to chase Marchand down the tunnel to the locker room after he realizes what happened? On top of that, it was the Penguins’ entire top line on the ice at that moment. Do you really want Crosby (who is recovering from a wrist issue that plagued him for years and resulted in surgery this offseason) or Jake Guentzel or Bryan Rust (your top offensive players this season) risking injury by rumbling in a line brawl? Come on.
Anybody in the lineup that you would want to see do such a thing (Brian Boyle I guess?) never got a chance to see the ice at the same time as Marchand because, A) there were 24 seconds remaining in the game, and B) Marchand was already ejected.
Anytime the Penguins are subjected to some random garbage from the Marchands, Tom Wilsons, or Brandon Dubinskys of the league we get lengthy TED talks on how the Penguins are too soft and need to get more pushback or jam or somebody that can respond or deter them.
But I hate that mindset. I hate that mindset because you are allowing opposing team agitators dictate how you build your team. It also doesn’t work. There isn’t an agitator in the world that is going to deter those players from pulling the nonsense that they pull. Keep in mind that the Boston Bruins employed both Shawn Thornton and Milan Lucic when Matt Cooke sent Marc Savard’s career off the rails with that cheap shot over a decade ago.
I always keep going back to the end of the Dan Bylsma era when the Penguins DID make it a point to respond and push back to teams. They would routinely fly off the handle against teams like Philadelphia (and Boston) and the discussion would then circle back to how they lacked discipline and composure and couldn’t control themselves. It also had a tendency to cost them players through suspension or injury in the ensuing brawls. It was not until a couple of years later when Mike Sullivan came in and drilled the “just play” mantra into their heads that they started to find playoff success again.
When they tried to bring in more of that “pushback” (Ryan Reaves, Erik Gudbranson, etc.) it started to slowly cut into the style of play that made them Stanley Cup champions again.
The point here is not that the Penguins should actively look to avoid physical play. Or that they should never get into a fight or push back in certain circumstances. But not every slight against you requires a fight, and not every context even allows for it to happen (like Tuesday’s game in Boston). It also does not need to be an indictment of your team, or players, or style of play when you do not respond, and it does not mean that you need to bring somebody in to change that.
While Ron Hextall was known for being an intense competitor on the ice (and at times a loose cannon; just ask Robby Brown) for the Philadelphia Flyers, his managerial track record has been very, very different. It was under Hextall’s watch that the Flyers started to drift away from their, um, Broad Street Bullies(?) identity. So I am not too concerned about some sort of a panic move in that regard. That is a good thing. It is not necessary.