Pittsburgh Penguins: James Neal faces hearing for knee today

In a wildly violent game Saturday night between the Boston Bruins and the Pittsburgh Penguins, James Neal kneed a vulnerable Brad Marchand in the head. Today Neal will face discipline from the league for his actions.

Neal’s knee was delivered to the head of an unsuspecting Marchand as he lay on the ice. The optics of the incident are not good – it appears as though Neal’s cheap shot was intentional and could have been potentially dangerous, although Marchand did escape major injury. When determining suspension length, the NHL has been known to consider injury severity.

Shortly after Neal landed the knee-led head shot, the game went violent – Bruins enforcer Shawn Thornton tripped and sucker-punched Pens defender Brooks Orpik, which can also be witnessed by watching the video posted above.

James Neal, Pittsburgh Penguins.

James Neal, Pittsburgh Penguins. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

All of the violence is believed to have been sparked by an open ice hit Orpik laid on concussion prone Bruin, Loui Eriksson, earlier in the first period of the game in question. Orpiks hit should have been an interference penalty, you will hear argued, however, it wasn’t the blown call the sparked the violence, it was the resulting injury to Eriksson that ruffled everyone’s feathers. That being said, two wrongs don’t make a right, or do they? In the NHL, violence is often met with violence – it is engrained in the culture of the game.

Neal’s act of dangerous carelessness helps prove two things:

Firstly, rostering a tough team does not deter violence, as the self-policing enforcer theory would suggest. The Bruins, widely considered as tough a team as any in the league, is a team that is often victim to cheap shots, regardless of the fear players like Milan Lucic, Zdeno Chara and Shawn Thornton are said to instil within opponents. Marc Savard, Loui Eriksson, Brad Marchand, the list is long of Bruins who are on the wrong end of cheap shots, in spite of the protection their big tough guys provide.

Secondly, retaliation is almost undoubtedly worse than the initial act. Think back to Todd Bertuzzi on Moore, or Tie Domi elbowing an unsuspecting Scott Niedermayer in the 2001 Stanley Cup playoffs. Two wrongs don’t make a right, but that is an adage the NHL’s players are yet to adopt.

There are some who believe Neal’s knee was disturbing, and worthy of a lengthy suspension. There is also a tendency among fans who discuss hockey to compare Neal’s kneeing act with the sucker-punches landed by Shawn Thornton. Both violent incidents occurred within the first period of an out-of-hand game. It will be interesting to see how the NHL’s chief of discipline, Brendan Shanahan, decides to penalize either player. In Neal’s case, we will have our answer at some point today. As for Thornton, no hearing date has been announced at this time.