The NHL playoffs kicked off last night with four games, and we’ve already got plenty to talk about. The Predators blew a 3-0 lead against the Blackhawks, losing in double overtime on this Duncan Keith goal. The Flames earned a comeback road win in Vancouver, scoring with 30 seconds left in regulation. And the Islanders added to a good night for road teams with a 4-1 win over a surprisingly sluggish Capitals team.
And yet, out of all that, the one play that everyone seems to be talking about is The Slash. That came midway through the game between Montreal and Ottawa, and involved All-Star Habs defenseman P.K. Subban’s overhand chop to the arm of Senators wing Mark Stone.
Here’s the play in question:
Subban received a major and a game misconduct. Stone returned to action shortly after and finished the game, but the team now says he has a microfracture and could be out for the series. The Senators scored twice on the five-minute power play; the Habs added a short-handed goal.
And now, with calls for a suspension on one side and accusations of a faked injury on the other, we’ve got ourselves a mess to sort through. Here are 10 things to keep in mind as we navigate the first big controversy of this year’s playoffs.
1. That’s clearly a penalty. It’s a textbook slash, it’s intentional, and it’s to a vulnerable area of a player who isn’t expecting it. Nobody, not even the most rabid Canadiens homer, would try to claim that Subban shouldn’t have been penalized. The question is whether it should have been a major, and whether Subban should be suspended.
2. The rulebook seems clear. As pointed out by former NHL ref Kerry Fraser, the rulebook says that any slash that causes an injury is an automatic five and a game. That’s pretty cut-and-dried. Good call.
3. That’s a terrible rule. Here’s the problem: NHL referees aren’t doctors, and they don’t get to examine players after penalties. So if the NHL wants to factor injuries into penalty calls, it’s inviting all sorts of trouble. Stone certainly looked hurt; when he sprinted off, my first thought was that he probably had a broken wrist. But when he returned minutes later, Subban was furious — cameras caught him screaming at someone from the hallway between the benches. Habs fans were too.
This whole scenario illustrates the foolishness of basing penalties on injuries; if I’m an NHL player and I get slashed, apparently I should just make a dash for the dressing room and earn my team an automatic five-minute power play. And it’s why the rule, while fairly clear as written, isn’t often called that way. Players get slashed all the time, and they often look like they’re hurt in the aftermath, but ejections for slashing are relatively rare.