Friday, October 9, 2009

Flyers vs. Penguins Round 1: What Really Happened in the Brawl

Last night, the Flyers and Penguins met for the first time this season. The Penguins were able to grab a 5-4 victory, but it wasn't the final score that headlined this game. None nine of the goals scored came anywhere close to being the top highlight of the night. In fact, the first 59 minutes and 55 seconds of gameplay paled in comparison to the final five.

Only the video can do justice to what happened in those final five seconds. Click here to view it.

Now, nobody expected this game to be a peaceful affair, and fights were to be expected. However, this game didn't really yield as much traditional fighting as one would expect, and instead saw the Flyers go with a whole new stratagem of hockey violence.

In this video see three notable events take place during this scrum:
1) Flyers' captain and center Mike Richards plows into Penguins' netminder Marc-Andre Fleury, knocking Fleury into the net.
2) Flyers' winger Scott Hartnell grabs Pens' defenseman Kristopher Letang from behind, right as Letang was running into the goal, causing it to dislodge. Hartnell and Letang lock up, and quickly fall to the ice, still tied up. After Letang gets up, he runs towards the Penguins locker room looking as if he has injured his finger
3) Chris Pronger comes into the picture after a few seconds, and grabs Pens' winger Chris Kunitz from behind, apparently trying to strangle Kunitz with his own jersey. After a good fifteen seconds or so of Pronger holding Kunitz, with the referees trying to free Kunitz, Pronger lets him go.

Also, in case you were wondering, the penalties levied afterwards were the following:
Mike Richards (PHI)- 2 minute minor for Goaltender Interference
Scott Hartnell (PHI)- 2 minute minor for Roughing
Kristopher Letang (PIT)- 2 minute minor for Roughing
Chris Kunitz (PIT)- 10 minute misconduct
Chris Pronger (PHI)- 10 minute misconduct

So, as one can imagine, the aftermath of this scrum has been quite hard to sort out. The biggest development that has arisen from this fight is that the Penguins have alleged that Scott Hartnell actually bit Letang on the finger.

Here's what Hartnell and Letang had to say (the quotes are from the Pittsburgh-Post Gazette, from an article that is linked to in the previous paragraph):

Hartnell: "A lot of stuff happens on the bottom of the pile. He had his hands in my face doing the face wash and we're rolling around. I can't say what happened."
Letang: "I think he knows what he did."

Obviously, we're never going to know exactly what happened between Letang and Hartnell, but I'm going to have to side with Letang here. There aren't a lot of things that could have happened to Letang's finger that he could have confused with a bite, because the feeling of two teeth clamping down on your finger is pretty distinctive. He could also just be making it up, but it doesn't seem like it would be worth the trouble for the Letang and the Penguins to make a false accusation. There wouldn't be sufficient evidence for the league to suspend Hartnell, which means that the allegation wouldn't really benefit the Penguins in any way.

The two most likely explanations for the biting allegation are that it was a legitimate allegation, or that Letang and his teammates just wanted to get back at Hartnell for grabbing Letang from behind. Letang never made an outright accusation that Hartnell bit him, instead letting his teammates do so. He only said that Hartnell "knows what he did."

It is clear, however, that Hartnell initiated the fight, almost certainly because Letang looked ready to attack Mike Richards for plowing into Fleury. As for what Richards did, it's pretty clear that he deserved the penalty he received. Despite not being one of the Flyers tough guys, Richards is known for getting his hands dirty, and he may have taken his time slowing down as he barrelled towards Fleury. That being said, it's safe to pinpoint Richards as the one who lit the spark that started the scrum.

Now, as for the choking incident, one should hardly consider it a surprise. People have been saying that Chris Pronger is perfect for the Flyers for years, because his style of play makes him a perfect fit for the "Broad Street Bullies." One can always count on Pronger to make dirty plays, whether it's stomping on an opponent's arm with his skate, or teaming up with a teammate to deliver a vicious hit. In this case, he made no secret of trying to strangle Chris Kunitz with Kunitz' own jersey collar. Pronger, like Hartnell, was apparently trying to prevent a teammate from being attacked, as Kunitz looked ready to grab Hartnell after Letang ran off towards the Pens' locker room. Knowing Pronger, this was probably more of an excuse to attack Kunitz than it was a reason to go after him in the first place. Having joined a team that embraces rough play this season, Pronger was probably looking forward to get some "Broad Street Bullying" under his belt.

So, what do we make of this whole mess? If you're a Penguins fan, it goes without saying that this makes you angry and disgusted. However, if you're a Flyers fan, you're probably finding yourself surprisingly happy with a loss to your team's biggest rival. Nothing helps allieve the woes of defeat than seeing your team beat up the opponents- at least if you're a Philadelphia sports fan. The one thing that made this scrum more acceptable for the Flyers than the Carcillo/Talbot disaster during last year's game six disaster (ethics and sportsmanship aside) was that they didn't put the game on the line just for the sake of doing mischief. They waited until the end to cause major damage, which may be unethical and illegal by hockey standards, but it's a good strategy nonetheless.  The Flyers' players were undoubtedly the aggressors, but they managed to take a couple Penguins to the penalty box with them, frustrating the Penguins while not hurting their chances of winning (as the game was essentially over by that point). Pronger (and perhaps Richards) deserve to be suspended, but even if they do, they still made the right decision. The Flyers sent a message at the right time and in the right way, showing that they are learning how to live up to the name "Broad Street Bullies" without forgetting that winning the game is more important than winning a fight.

The Penguins and their fans can complain all they want, but unless the league goes out of their way to make an example of Pronger, Richards, and/or Hartnell, their concerns will be a non-issue. The Penguins won this game on paper, but the Flyers were able to turn the loss into somewhat of a mental victory that will go a long way as this rivalry continues over the course of this season.


  1. Fight are entertaining but the Flyers are going to have to WIN some of these games if they want to have a shot at the cup Let's start playing before the game is over next time!

  2. I think a team that waits until the end of the game to play physical, doesn't clear the front of the net, allows the Pens to score 3 of their goals from close in range(Crosby was in front of net to be in position to tip Malkin's shot in) lets the Pens win the hitting battle, allows Briere to be bounced halfway out of the rink by Orpik w/o retalition, and doesn't match the intensity, physicality, defense and goaltending of the Pens, sends a message that they have not closed the gap with the Pens.