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Friday, May 20, 2022
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Now More Than Ever, Penguins Need a Hammer – Pittsburgh Penguins – PenguinPoop Blog


If you’ve like me, you’re still simmering over last night’s end-of-the-game incident involving Penguins goalie Tristan Jarry and the Bruins’ Brad Marchand. Check that… Marchand’s blatant and vile assault on our goalie. First with a blind-side sucker punch followed in short-order by a high stick to the mask.

All of this happened in a flash, before the Pens could really respond. To his credit, Kris Letang tried to get at Marchand, but the linesmen quickly intervened. Of course, not before the Bruins’ weasel got in his parting shot with the stick.

I shudder to think what would have happened had Jarry sustained a concussion… or worse. Our season would’ve gone up in smoke in one ugly swoop.

Think no one gets hurt in incidents like these? You’re wrong. Dead wrong. In January 1982, black-and-gold center Paul Gardner was enjoying a career season. He was riding a six-game point streak with four goals over that span.

Then the Pens visited Winnipeg on January 13.

“It was a heated game, near the end,” Gardner told Paul Steigerwald in an article for the Tribune Review. “All of a sudden we’re on a power play, and I’m standing there talking to Dave Babychjust like I’m talking to you, and the next thing you know, I ended up in the ambulance. ”

What happened was this. Jets goon Jimmy Mann, who remarkably would later play for the Penguins, skated up behind Gardner and punched him not once but twice. The blows were delivered with such brutality and force that Gardner’s jaw was knocked off its hinges.

Mann received a 10-game suspension. Gardner missed 21 games with a fractured jaw. Although he’d go on to tally a career-high 36 goals in just 59 games and would lead the NHL with 21 power-play goals, he was never really the same player. By December 1985, less than three years after the assault, he was out of the NHL at age 29, his promising career cut short.

Gardner still has wires in his jaw to hold it in place.

I’ll cite another incident.

During Game 5 of the 1967 Quarter-Finals, a line brawl erupted between the first-place Flyers and the Blues, a nasty bunch that featured the notorious Plager brothers, Barclay and Bob. During the melee hulking Blues defenseman Noel Picard moved in on peace-loving Flyers forward Claude “Pepsi” Laforge and sucker-punched him from behind.

“While Laforge lay on the ice in an ever-widening pool of blood, Picard and the Blues took on the Flyers, and quite successfully,” wrote Gene Hart in his book Score.

Flyers owner Ed Snider was appalled. “Never again,” he told his scouts. “I want size and I want meanness.”

Enter Dave “the Hammer” Schultz and henchmen Bob “Hound” Kelly and Don “Big Bird” Saleski. The Broad Street Bullies were born, inciting decades of lawless and on-ice mayhem.

Fast forward to the present day. Over the past half-dozen seasons, really since Mike Sullivan became our coach, the Pens have cultivated a culture of not fighting back. That’s not to say we’re wimpy… far from it. In terms of hockey toughness, players like Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Letang compete as hard if not harder than anyone. We have the Stanley Cups to prove it.

Still, without a willing and able pugilist to do some enforcing, our stars are vulnerable to opponents who know they can take liberties without fear of retribution. Just like Marchand did last night.

To his credit, former GM Jim Rutherford tried to remedy the situation. In response to the abuse Crosby and his fellow stars absorbed during the 2017 Cup run, Rutherford imported top gun Ryan Reaves, the toughest fighter in the game. “Reavo” lasted two-thirds of a season before Sullivan began to sit him down, in effect forcing a trade to Vegas. Where Reaves served as a fourth-line hammer and enforcer… and quite successfully… for three-plus seasons. He’s presently a member in good standing of the division-rival Rangers. Bet his teammates sleep better at night knowing there’s a “Sheriff” in town.

In 2018, JR acquired defenseman Erik Gudbranson, nearly Reaves’ equal as a fighter and physical presence. Despite a solid start in the Steel City, it was only a matter of time before Sullivan weeded him out, too. The same would probably have happened had the Pens acquired Anaheim thumper Nicolas Deslauriers as rumored at last season’s trade deadline.

The message is crystal clear. If you can not fit Sullivan’s up-tempo style, he does not want you. And I get it… to an extent. But not at the risk of leaving your players unprotected.

Relying on the league to handle disciplinary matters, as Sullivan seems to prefer? Puh-lease. If Marchand is suspended for more than one or two games, I’ll be stunned. Especially since it appears Patrice Bergeron might miss some time following an inadvertent collision with Crosby. Wouldn’t want to handicap the poor Bruins just because Marchand went haywire. Never mind the damage he might’ve done to Jarry.

I do not know about you, but I’m tired of watching our guys take it on the chin.

Somewhere out there in junior or the collegiate ranks or US amateur programs or even Europe is a kid who can play and score and fight. Ron Hextall and his scouts need to find him.





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