The NHL’s focus on removing dangerous hits from the game — particularly direct hits to the head and hits from behind — has altered the way players act and approach different situations in the game, according to several Capitals players.
“I think you’ve seen it already around the league. I think a lot of guys hesitate going into the corners, especially on the forecheck,” Matt Hendricks said Monday, before captain Alex Ovechkin was suspended three games for his hit on Zbynek Michalek. “I think as a forward, especially my role on this team, I have slowed down a lot. In the past I [would think] he’s close enough to the boards, he’s not going to go headfirst into it, he’s not going to get hurt where I would make contact with him. Now, I think we’re holding each other up a little bit more, trying to keep from getting suspended.”
Hendricks, who was the recipient of an elbow by Michalek that led to the Pittsburgh defenseman having a hearing with NHL disciplinarian Brendan Shanahan, said he wants to see the game remain physical but without the head shots and dangerous plays.
The gritty fourth-line forward also said that as a hitter himself, he feels as though Shanahan’s explanations and videos have offered players a transparent track record of what will or won’t be tolerated. “I think he’s doing a good job showing us what he doesn’t want to see,” Hendricks said.
Troy Brouwer echoed his teammate’s sentiment and said that now players tend to pull up when preparing to make a hit along the boards to guard against an opponent changing their positioning.
“You have to have that respect for the other players, that you’re not going to crush them into the boards from behind or put them in a vulnerable spot because you’re trying to finish your checks,” Brouwer said. “It does change your game, it makes you a little more tentative out there. It’s part of the game, it’s how the game’s evolving. It’s just things you have to deal with going forward.”
There is a greater awareness on the ice, Brooks Laich said, to not take advantage of a player in a vulnerable position and pay close attention to an opponent’s positioning along the boards.
In addition to the burden on the hitter to not intentionally make a dangerous hit, though, Laich said the players being hit should carry the responsibility of not placing themselves in risky situations.
Laich took care to qualify that he does not believe that Michalek did anything wrong when he was hit by Ovechkin early in the second period. “He’s not to be faulted for that,” Laich said.
“From being on the ice, I know there’s times where guys have turned when you’re coming, they’re in a spot and they turn, they’re back a foot or two from the boards, forces you to let up – I’ve done it. Inadvertently, done it too,” Laich said. “You talk to the player after a whistle, you say, ‘Oh don’t spin there.’ Guys have said it to me, don’t spin there….I don’t want to make somebody hit me from behind, get a three-game suspension and lose X amount of thousands of dollars. I think some of the onus has to be put on the player who has the puck.”
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