Examining the aftermath of the Sharks-Stars game – Heatley’s suspension, Wallin/Eriksson injuries, Ott’s ridiculous comments

By Jon Swenson - Last updated: Friday, March 18, 2011 - Save & Share - Leave a Comment

San Jose Sharks defenseman Douglas Murray hit on Dallas Stars Tomas Vincour

Dallas Stars Jamie Langenbrunner hit on San Jose Sharks defenseman Niclas Wallin

San Jose Sharks Douglas Murray hit on Dallas Stars Loui Eriksson

Some games leave a mark. San Jose’s 6-3 win at Dallas on Tuesday night left a mark, injured a few key players, resulted in a league suspension, and raised the bar on already heightened tensions between two Pacific Division rivals. The game itself was far closer than the score suggests, but a key missed call by vetern referee Bill McCreary and Kyle Rehman unleashed a powder keg on the ice.

In the second period Sharks defenseman Niclas Wallin turned towards the boards and played the puck down into the corner when he was run from behind by Dallas forward Jamie Langenbrunner. Wallin was smashed face first against the metal stanchion that holds the panes of plexiglass in place. Despite McCreary being a few feet from the play, there was no call. Play was allowed to continue, and with a clearly affected Wallin still on the ice, Mike Ribeiro circled behind the net and wristed a shot far side. Rookie defenseman Justin Braun stopped on one side of the net and failed to track Ribeiro through the crease. Dallas captain Brenden Morrow used a stationary Wallin as a screen to seperate himself from a backchecking Thornton, puting himself in a position for a rebound. After the goal, Thornton argued with the referees about the non-call.

That is where the hostilities ticked off on Tuesday night, but the game also has to be looked at in context. Last week the referees completely lost control of a Sharks-Stars game in San Jose. It culminated when Steve Ott put a dangerous hit on Jason Demers. When Demers retaliated, Ott ducked behind two linesman and Demers accidentally punched one of the lineseman in the visor. In the second night of a back-to-back on Tuesday, the Sharks were also coming off their worst loss in 2 months Monday night at Chicago.

When Langenbrunner was not called for the hit on Wallin, Sharks defenseman Douglas Murray stepped in. Minnesota’s Cal Clutterbuck may be the NHL’s hit leader with 318, but Murray is far and away the heaviest hitter in the game. Listed at 6-foot-3, and between 240 and 245 pounds, opponents have realized it is nearly impossible to catch him off balance with a hit. They have also realized, or should realize, that Murray is capable of playing the puck and the body in devestating fashion. On the next shift Loui Eriksson and Murray battled for a deflected puck in the offensive zone. Eriksson stretched forward to punch it past the blue line, but he ran straight into the shoulder of Murray and had problems regaining his feet and leaving the ice. Eriksson was listed as day-to-day with an upper body injury after the game. As Eriksson headed to the locker room, Wallin turned and left the bench as well. After the loss of their second leading scorer, Ott immediately dropped the gloves with Murray.

In the third period, the action did not get any easier on the ice. Battling for front body position on Brendan Morrow, Sharks defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic got his stick out to deflect a point shot. The shot deflected off his stick and hit him in the throat. According to an interview on Thursday with Comcast, Vlasic said he could not breathe for a few seconds. He added that the decision for him to remain overnight in Dallas was not his call.

A few minutes after that play, Douglas Murray was in another 50/50 battle at the blueline with Stars center Tomas Vincour. Vincour challenged Murray hard on the play, and Murray followed through with a check that crumpled Vincour. According to Defending Big D’s Art Middleton, Murray had just dumped the puck into the offensive zone and was not in a clean position to make a hit. Middleton believes it was a borderline incident, but also that it was a result of a ‘hockey play’ and not one warranting any supplementary action. Vincour initiated the challenge on a puck carrying Murray, and the Sharks defenseman leveled him on the follow through. According to Middleton, Vincour tried to take another shift but he was essentially done for the night. “If the GMs are serious about tightening the rules rather than adding one banning head shots, then they have to target crap like this,” Yahoo’s Greg Wyshynski said of the Murray hit on Vincour without seeing full video of the game. It is a tough call considering Murray made a play on the dump in, hit Vincour on the followthrough, then lost his stick on the play.

Both Murray hits, and Joe Thornton’s hit on David Perron that earned him a 2-game suspension earlier this season, came on plays where opposing players put themselves in a dangerous position. Eriksson was reaching for a loose puck instead of preparing himself for a hit, Vincour came hard at a charging Murray, and Perron was skating through the neutral zone with his head turned behind him looking for a breakout pass. In boxing and mixed martial arts, competitors are encouraged at the start of every fight to ‘protect yourself at all times’. The same should be true for ice hockey. Perron has not returned to the ice since the hit on November 4th. According to reports out of St. Louis this weekend, he has been shut down for the season. Eriksson missed Thursday’s contest with concussion like symptoms, and is listed as day-to-day.

“After watching the NHL video at the beginning of the year, I’ve held up a couple times where in the past I might have followed through with a hit, especially when somebody is cutting across the ice,” Douglas Murray told reporters in a media scrum on Wednesday. “But you never aim for somebody’s head. At least I always have aimed for the chest.”

Then came Heatley’s much discussed elbow to Steve Ott with 4:06 remaining in the third. Far from the play, Heatley reached out his elbow and caught Ott up high. After a hearing by phone on Wednesday, he would be suspended for 2 games by the NHL. “It was definitely a bad penalty at a bad time in the game. But I did not hit him in the head. But that’s the decision they made, and I have to live with it,” Heatley told reporters the next day according to Mark Emmons. The elbow was described as ‘selfish’ by San Jose television broadcaster Drew Remenda, but Heatley said it was not one targeted at Ott’s head. “I felt that I got him in the chest and the shoulder. Obviously I think the camera angles weren’t the best quality for deciding that. But that’s the ruling.”

Ott’s reaction to the play on the ice, and in the locker room after the game, was more performance theater than a legitimate call for reform. “You hate to dwell on games as long as you can. You have that 5-10 minutes. You have to find a way to park the game and move on, start focusing for your next one. It is not going to get any easier.” Ott told reporters Tuesday after the loss.

Asked about whether Dany Heatley should be suspended or not, Ott replied, “I think Colin Campbell’s got his hands full, that’s for sure. I think the Loui Eriksson hit is prototypical. He’s reaching for the hit. The big guy knows what he’s doing. He’s bearing down and finishing the check. He did it again on an offensive play against Vincour, elbowed him right in the face. My head’s killin’ me from this light right now from Dany Heatley’s little cheap shot.”

Others have mentioned Ott’s past transgressions, of which there are many. The headhunting 2008 hit on Jordan Leopold, the alleged eye gouging incident with Travis Moen in 2009, and the knee-on-knee hit against Carlo Colaiacovo, but you don’t need to go back that far. Last week Ott took a 20+ foot charge on Sharks defenseman Jason Demers, then hid behind a pair of linesman when he was confronted about it. The next game against against Los Angeles Ott earned a spearing major and a game misconduct. Once again, two suspendable offenses that occured LAST WEEK.

Ott was prone on the ice awaiting medical attention, but he gathered himself pretty quickly on the bench and was out on the ice 1:07 later to take a power play faceoff. A key save by Lehtonen and a hit post kept the Stars within one, but two empty net goals put the game out of reach in the final minutes. “If this doesn’t get looked at, I don’t know. I guess when you’re used to being on the other end and being suspended in the past, I think it’s pretty evident where this stuff should go in a hurry,” Ott said. “I don’t care if Heatley makes $10 million or Murray makes less, it’s time to get this out of the game as fast as we can. Protect the guys. We’re going to have guys that are going to be icing heads now. You only have one brain, so let’s honestly start figuring something out.”

It was a dumb penalty by Heatley, one that was exaggerated heavily by Ott. Two games is a little much for the incident, but the hit occured at the worst possible time for the league. Every element of physical play was being examined at the GM meeting in Florida, and a new concussion protocol was in the process of being enacted. The on-ice officials let both games get out of hand. In San Jose, the Sharks were called out for their lack of response to the Stars’ borderline play. In Dallas, they were not going to give an inch. One scary thought, given the current standings both of these teams would meet in a first round playoff series.

[Update] The NHL’s Wednesday release on Dany Heatley’s suspension:

San Jose Sharks forward Dany Heatley has been suspended for two games and will forfeit $80,645.16 in salary for delivering an elbow to the head of Dallas Stars player Steve Ott in NHL game #1049 last night, the National Hockey League announced today. Heatley’s fine is based on his average annual salary and is calculated under the terms of the Collective Bargaining Agreement. The money goes to the Players’ Emergency Assistance Fund. The incident occurred at 15:54 of the third period and Heatley was assessed a minor penalty for interference. Heatley will miss the Sharks’ next two games — March 17 against Minnesota and March 19 against St. Louis. He will be eligible to return March 23 against Calgary.

[Update2] Hits to the head dominate post-game talk after 6-3 loss – Mike Heika for the Dallas Morning News Starsblog.

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