If you tuned into the first five minutes of the Penguins and Jets game, you’d likely see a scene straight out of 1980s hockey. Two fights — and eventually an ejection — sparked within the opening moments in Winnipeg, all stemming from a hit that happened the last time these two teams played.
Back on Feb. 16, Evgeni Malkin threw a high hit on Blake Wheeler that caused quite the kerfuffle. Malkin was given an interference penalty, but no additional discipline — which confused Wheeler and sparked a fire under Jets fans.
On Wednesday, Malkin answered for the hit when Wheeler fought the Penguins’ forward early in the game.
Then, Tom Sestito danced with Chris Thorburn on the ensuing faceoff.
It’s an opening that set the tone for the rest of the period, and maybe the game. However, hockey’s insistence on keeping The Code alive is quite something, isn’t it?
What’s “The Code” you ask? It’s that supposedly unwritten rule that governs how NHL players should and should not fight.
The Code is the reason Wheeler fought Malkin, to stand up for himself after being disrespected with a hit. It’s also the reason Sestito, a known enforcer, was dressed for the game in preparation for the Wheeler retribution.
Sestito did this to Toby Enstrom just moments after his fight.
Tom Sestito is gonna hear about this one pic.twitter.com/3uQ4nLLQJv— Pete Blackburn (@PeteBlackburn) March 9, 2017
Sestito is no doubt going to hear from the league with that check from behind that earned him a game misconduct. Enstrom did not return to the game due to an upper body injury.
Even still, what was the point from the Penguins’ perspective? Malkin could have fought Wheeler all by himself and The Code would have been rightfully fulfilled. Justice would have been given to the Jets and that’d be the end of it.
Instead, Sestito was tossed after accruing 20 penalty minutes in 13 minutes of game time, with a likely suspension on the way.
But Mary, you ask, where’s your anger at the NHL for not giving Malkin the original supplemental discipline that was due? Well, it’s there. If the NHL’s Department of Player Safety wants to make the game safer, they have to make consistent calls on hits that endanger players. Wheeler’s retribution likely would not have been needed had the NHL made the correct decision to discipline Malkin.
It’s an image the NHL has had for most of its time as a major sport, but it’s one that many want to change with the concussion findings that have the league locked in a major court battle over fighting and the role of the enforcer.