“Just watching — and I’ve been watching a lot of the games — everything is just a little bit more intense than it normally is,” Capitals defenseman Karl Alzner said Wednesday.
No one is certain why the violence and mayhem are up this year, though Alzner said it may have something to do with the success the Boston Bruins had last year in winning the Stanley Cup. “Everybody wants to establish their dominance,” Alzner said. “Everybody saw what Boston did last year and how they were so good at fighting for their ice and frustrating teams. Everyone is trying to play a little like that.”
One theory is the heated series between the Pittsburgh Penguins and Philadelphia Flyers, in-state rivals with a history of dislike for one another. Referees handed out 158 penalty minutes during Game 3 of their best-of-seven series, which the Flyers lead 3-1 after Wednesday night’s 10-3 win by the Penguins in Game 4.
It included a rare fight between two of the game’s superstars — Sidney Crosby of the Penguins and Claude Giroux of the Flyers. Indeed, three of the nine bans handed down by the league — and one of the fines — have been levied against members of the Penguins.
The Penguins-Flyers matchup has also put the NHL in a familiar quandary. On the one hand, league officials say they want to reduce violence in the game. On the other, violence drives television ratings.
The rating for the Pittsburgh-Philadelphia Game 3 on NBC reportedly drew a 2.3 share, the best number for an NHL playoff game, excluding a Stanley Cup final contest, in a decade.
Another theory for the uptick in violence is that players are finding it harder to straddle the line between being aggressive and out of bounds.
“The internal compass between what is right and wrong is gone for lots of players,” said Ray Ferraro, who played 18 seasons in the NHL and is now a hockey analyst for Canadian broadcaster TSN. “Keep suspending them. And I don’t care of the outcry from the Board of Governors is, ‘Oh, we’re losing our players at the most valuable time of the year.’ Too bad. If you’re players don’t commit the act, they won’t get suspended.”
At Kettler Capitals Iceplex on Wednesday, there was considerable discussion about a hit delivered the night before by Phoenix Coyotes forward Raffi Torres against Chicago Blackhawks star Marian Hossa. Torres left his feet to hit Hossa squarely with his shoulder in center ice just after the Chicago forward had delivered a pass.