With about ten minutes left in Tuesday night’s game, with the Washington Capitals already holding a 3-1 lead, Calgary Flames’ winger Rene Bourque – fresh off a two-game suspension for an illegal hit on Chicago’s Brent Seabrook – did it again. He intentionally, viciously targeted the head of his opponent, this time Caps center Nicklas Backstrom, and delivered his elbow squarely to the jaw of the unsuspecting Swede, who was headed to the bench on a line change.
You can see the video here to make up your own mind on the hit.
It’s a despicable act by a repeat offender who should have the book thrown at him in his hearing later Wednesday with NHL discipline czar Brendan Shanahan.
But what happened in the game afterward was almost as troubling as the hit itself.
Nothing. Absolutely nothing.
There was no pushing and shoving. No messages sent. No standing up for a fallen teammate. And it’s reached almost epidemic proportions on this team.
Let me be clear; I’m not advocating headhunting, stick-swinging, injury-provoking vigilantism. I’m not talking about running a marquee player or the other team’s goalie. I’m talking about standing up for a teammate, something this version of the Capitals doesn’t seem willing to do.
So fine, the players on the ice at the time of the hit might not have seen what happened, I get it. The hit was delivered during a line change and there was a lot going on at the time. Backstrom was taken to the dressing room, so the players on the bench had to know what was going on. But Bourque skated three shifts after delivering his cowardly blow, and no one layed so much as a finger on him. Anyone on this team could have had their crack at Bourque, and all declined. That is inexcusable.
Nick Backstrom is second only to Alex Ovechkin in importance to this team — this year, and frankly for the next decade. He is as integral a piece to this organization as anyone. The fact that no teammate was willing to stand up for him after he was taken out by such a blatant cheap shot is disturbing. You can bet if that had happened to Kelly Miller back in the day, the Caps current head coach would have leapt off the bench to go after the offender.
Tuesday night’s incident is not isolated though this season. Multiple times Capitals goalies have been “snowed” at the end of a play without retribution. Twice against Calgary, in fact, Tomas Vokoun was contacted after the whistle by a Flames forward without so much of a shove from a Caps defender. It’s become so routine that I’d be surprised if teams aren’t instructing their forwards to go ahead and get their stick in there on the Caps’ goalie, there won’t be any retribution.
Watch next time out. When the Caps are on the forecheck, any time they get in close, let alone make contact with a goalie, there will be pushing and shoving in front of the net. Defensemen are taught to make sure the forwards know they are there at all times. If they’re thinking about getting hit, they aren’t thinking as much about where they’re putting the puck. This rarely happens in the Capitals end. Just watch for yourself.
Again, I’m not calling for attempts to injure. But hockey is a physical game. And it’s not just about fighting. There’s a time and a place for that. But I’m talking about the toughness it takes to play this game “the right way.” Hunter talks about it all the time. Part of playing “the right way” is standing up for your goalie or a fallen teammate.