Staple: Isles back in undesirable spotlight

New York Islanders' Michael Haley fights with Pittsburgh New York Islanders' Michael Haley fights with Pittsburgh Penguins center Maxime Talbot (25) during the third period of an NHL hockey game. (Feb. 11, 2011) Photo Credit: Kathy Kmonicek

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Arthur Staple Arthur Staple

Staple, with Newsday since 1997, has covered high school sports, hockey and football.

With NHL commissioner Gary Bettman stepping in to help mete out the fines and suspensions from Friday night’s Penguins-Islanders game, the league and the Isles are back in the spotlight for all the wrong reasons.

The league has taken major steps to prevent line brawls from breaking out, and from players hopping the boards to fight. Yet not only was there the mayhem at the Coliseum on Friday, but also two line-brawl breakouts in Wed- nesday’s Bruins-Canadiens game.

Interesting that there was very little outcry after the 182 penalty minutes in Boston, even as Bruins Shawn Thornton and Johnny Boychuk pummeled two Canadiens non-fighters — Jaroslav Spacek and Roman Hamrlik. And Gregory Campbell, son of NHL discipline dean Colin Campbell, slicing up Montreal’s Tom Pyatt with his elbow pad drew no further league comment.

For their part in exacting hockey justice against the Penguins, the Isles’ Trevor Gillies and Matt Martin are deserving of punishment. The Penguins get little sympathy, considering Matt Cooke missed Friday’s game because he’s serving a four-game suspension for his latest hit (a leaping check to the back of the Blue Jackets’ Fedor Tyutin). And Eric Godard hopping the boards to defend his goaltender is worthy of the automatic 10-game ban.

Much like the debate over hits to the head — and that factors in here too, with Pens rookie Eric Tangradi likely out with a concussion after Gillies’ elbow to the head and subsequent punch — this is on the players. If they want to beat one another senseless and call it revenge, go right ahead. If Martin thinks sucker-punching Max Talbot evens things for Talbot’s unpunished blind-side hit on Blake Comeau last week, then have at it.

But don’t expect concern about concussions when players seemingly relish going out of their way to deliver head blows, then try to defend their actions, as both sides did after Friday’s game.

“I don't know what they were so frustrated about,” Penguins defenseman Brooks Orpik said after the game. He threw his own blind-side hit, on Michael Grabner, and would have had a hearing with Colin Campbell had Grabner skated off with a head injury.

“This team is kind of sick of being pushed around all the time,” Martin said. “I think we made a statement out there tonight, that we're not a laughingstock.”  

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