Kukla's Korner

Southeast Tonight: A Trio of Games on Tap (and Brief Thoughts on Chara/Pacioretty)

Three Southeast tilts on tap for this evening, all with playoff implications. The Thrashers and Hurricanes, each still aiming for a post-season berth, square off against each other in Raleigh, while the Capitals and Lightning, fresh off head-to-head battle of their own on Monday night that culminated in a 2-1 shootout win and a two-point lead in the division for Washington, each host Western Conference opponents this evening in Edmonton and Chicago, respectively.

Thrashers at Hurricanes
Atlanta bested Florida in overtime on Saturday but had dropped seven of eight and 16 of 19 overall prior to that, leaving them seven points behind the playoff cut line, presently, with 16 games to go. With Carolina a point behind eighth place Buffalo, tonight’s game is crucial for any late-season playoff rally for the Thrashers.

The Blackhawks dropped the Hurricanes in Chicago on Friday in a 5-2 final, putting an end to Carolina’s mini two-game win streak and paving the way for the Sabres to take advantage of some games in hand and overtake the ‘Canes in race for the East’s final playoff spot. Carolina and Buffalo still meet twice more down the stretch but the Hurricanes would be doing themselves a huge service in shutting down any Atlanta push from behind before it really starts.

With this game and another remaining to close out the season series, Carolina is 4-0-0 against Atlanta this season, with just one of those victories coming in regulation.

Oilers at Capitals
Riding the highs of a five-game winning streak in which each victory has been of the one-goal variety (and three needing extra time), Washington has reassumed the Southeast Division’s top spot after a shootout win in Tampa on Monday night.

Braden Holtby stepped in for a dazed Michal Neuvirth, who took a shot to the face in the first period Monday, and performed admirably, denying the Lightning a chance to retake the division lead a night after the Caps jumped them in the standings with a win at Florida.

After the emotional highs of an overtime win in Sunrise and the shootout decision a night later, the Capitals get an Oiler bunch that won three straight prior to Tuesday’s 4-1 loss in Philadelphia. This one has the makings of a classic trap game, with Washington on the rise facing the 30th team in the league.

That considered, their performance tonight should tell us a lot as to whether the first place Caps are truly back or if we should expect another lull from them at some point down the stretch.

Blackhawks at Lightning
On the flip side of that shootout decision from Monday are the Tampa Bay Lightning, who have gone from one of the great stories of the season to a team fielding tons of questions during their toughest stretch of the year. The current 0-3-1 slide is Tampa Bay’s longest skid under head coach Guy Boucher who, as expected, has refocused his club on Chicago and mandated the Washington loss forgotten – a practice he preaches, win or lose, each and every night.

Steven Stamkos finally snapped a four-game point-scoring drought, his longest of the year, on Monday with an assist but the NHL’s leading goal-scorer hasn’t dented the twine in six straight and only once in his last twelve games. Something’s gotta give there soon and it wouldn’t stun me in the least to see him get back on track tonight.

The Blackhawks came into last night’s game in Sunrise against the Panthers winners of eight straight and nine of ten but fell to Florida 3-2 after getting behind 3-0 in the first period. Chicago’s resurgence has them back in a home ice position in the Western Conference standings, fourth overall, and they give the Lightning the unenviable task of trying to put the brakes on their current slump against one of the league’s hottest clubs.

Stay tuned for afterthoughts on this one late tonight or early tomorrow.

***

On Chara/Pacioretty…

I was going to stay away from writing anything on the Zdeno Chara hit on Max Pacioretty last night but, as has often been the case in my writing career, I can’t help but feel Michael Corleoned into elaborating on some of the thoughts I’ve shared on Twitter since the incident occurred.

First and foremost, the end result was abhorrent. No one wants to see anyone injured like that, in as scary an on-ice scene as I’ve seen in quite some time. Nothing at all but the best wishes to Pacioretty and sincere hopes for a full and speedy recovery.

Secondly, Pacioretty deserves a little credit for hanging in there with the monstrous Chara. As Denis Potvin mentioned on SirusXM’s Hockey This Morning, a lot of players would have bailed out on engaging Chara in a one-on-one of any sort along the dangerous area of the bench’s half-wall and certainly the glass between the benches – the unintentional culprit in this unfortunate event.

Now then, let’s all take a step back and a deep breath and cease the crucifixion of Chara because there’s no way in the world he was able to identify Pacioretty as his target of choice, measure him up for a collision with the stanchion and execute a professional wrestling-style turnbuckle head smash intentionally at full speed.

History between the two or not, no way that was Chara’s intent. Sorry, folks.

Instead of succumbing to the suspension/punishment-happy majority of society these days, let’s dabble in reality here:

It was a reckless play and Chara probably could have laid off, especially if - and it most certainly is an if – he realized what Pacioretty was about to connect with.

The end result of the play being what it was, coupled with the hit being deemed illegal on the ice, makes it a suspendable offense.

Had it happened a foot short of where it did, the worst case scenario for Pacioretty would have been a tumble into the bench, which happens relatively frequently in hockey, often without injury. The coincidental location of the play in question should have no bearing whatsoever on punishment doled out to the aggressor. To do so would set a precedent we don’t need in this game, akin to a player’s hand getting caught in a photography hole during a hit in the corner and sustaining an injury suddenly becoming the intentional act and responsibility of a forechecker.

That one sound ridiculous? Good. Because it’s as ridiculous as accusing a guy of intentionally railroading an opponent into the stanchion. That just isn’t something one sets out to do.

Is Chara culpable for the end result to Pacioretty? Sure, as he would have been anywhere else this particular play would have occurred on the playing surface, were the result the same. 1-2 games should suffice.

But, as we continue to wish Max Pacioretty well and lament what he’ll have to go through as a result of this play, let’s put a stop to the constant overreactions every time an engagement between two players ends poorly for one. Some plays are obviously unacceptable – headshots, runs from behind, leaving your feet, etc. And some just happen.

Chara vs. Pacioretty vs. an immovable object just kind of happened.

Let Chara pay a reasonable price for it, as in a game or two, keep Pacioretty in your thoughts, learn something from this – as in, again, not every bad result from a collision is due to an act of malice – and move on.

I beg you.

JJ
jj@kuklaskorner.com
JJ on Twitter

Filed in: Atlanta Thrashers, Boston Bruins, Carolina Hurricanes, Chicago Blackhawks, Edmonton Oilers, Montreal Canadiens, Tampa Bay Lightning, Washington Capitals, | Beasts of the Southeast | Permalink
 

Comments

hockeychic's avatar

I’m having so much trouble getting past the image of Pacioretty lying on the ice and not moving that I’ve barely been able to read about this and what people are saying.  Thank you for having written a very well thought out and balanced piece.

Posted by hockeychic from Denver, CO on 03/09/11 at 02:06 PM ET

Jon Jordan's avatar

I appreciate that very much, hockeychic…

Certainly wish we had more banter on the subject here because, despite my stance on the matter, I can understand both sides…

JJ

Posted by Jon Jordan from Tampa, FL on 03/09/11 at 07:28 PM ET

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