Monday, January 20, 2014

Weekend wrap: When coaches attack

Coaches Cornered

Saturday night’s Canucks-Flames game started off pleasantly enough. The pregame skate went off without a hitch. The anthem was nice. Most of the fans managed to find their seats before the opening faceoff.

Then, this:

In case you lost track, that would be five fights, 142 penalty minutes, and eight ejections, all in the first two seconds of the game. Special credit goes to Canucks rookie Kellan Lain, who was making his NHL debut and now holds the record for career PIM rate. Hopefully the advanced-stats guys will let me know whether or not that’s sustainable.

As you’d expect, the scene led to the inevitable round of outrage and concern trolling, which spawned the usual thoughtful counterarguments. But whatever your views on fighting, this one was a bit of a debacle. There’s certainly plenty of blame to go around, and depending on your allegiances, one side may deserve more than the other. Let’s see if we can sort it out.

The visiting team sets their starting lineup first, of course, so any responsibility for the brawl has to begin with Flames coach Bob Hartley. He wasn’t even especially subtle about his intentions, having tough-guy winger Kevin Westgarth line up at center for the faceoff.

And while the move didn’t seem to be a direct response to anything that had gone on between the two teams in the past, it’s worth remembering that the Canucks had spent most of the week gooning it up in a series of over-the-top attempts to reestablish their team-toughness bona fides (including this brawl, which earned them an ultra-rare chance to kill off a seven-minute 5-on-3). So it’s possible that Hartley was trying the old “sucker-punch the bully in the mouth before he gets a chance to make a fist” move.

But once the Flames lineup was set, Canucks coach John Tortorella was in a no-win situation. If he puts his own idiots (their words) out on the ice, he makes the resulting chaos inevitable. But while many are suggesting that he should have instead sent his skill players out to defuse the situation, let’s remember that Toronto’s Randy Carlyle tried exactly that with Phil Kessel and John Scott and was rewarded with this.

(And it’s not like the Flames didn’t know how Tortorella would respond. He’d been put in the very same situation two years ago, when he was coaching the Rangers and was confronted with an enforcer-loaded starting lineup from the Devils. This was the result.)

But while Tortorella may not have done anything wrong leading up to the brawl, he abandoned any moral high ground during the first intermission:

Yes, that’s the coach of the Canucks trying to breech the Flames dressing room, presumably to get his hands on Hartley. He didn’t make it, but the attempt alone will likely draw a severe punishment from the league.

Meanwhile, the Canucks won 3-2 in a shootout. Hey, if you’re going to start the game off with a silly sideshow that many think has no place in the sport, you may as well finish with one too.

>> Read the full post on Grantland

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