Mike Matheson was already on the New York Islanders radar. The current Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman, who is enjoying the beginning of what looks like a career resurgence, dished a hard hit last postseason which ended defenseman Johnny Boychucks career.
Thursday night, Matheson caught star center Mathew Barzal near the boards in the third period of the Penguins 4-1 win. Matheson was called for boarding, which was probably the right call, But New York head coach Barry Trotz called it a “vicious crosscheck” and had a few more things to say.
“He’s got a couple of our guys here,” Trotz said. “(Matt Martin) sent a message to him, but yeah it’s going to get testy. We have to play these guys a whole bunch. I think another four times coming up here, so as it gets ramped up it will probably get harder and harder.”
In other words, the Pittsburgh Penguins may need to defend Matheson because New York would like a word.
Mike Matheson was the star of the game on Thursday. Despite only one assist, he was the catalyst for the first three Penguins goals, including a brilliant self pass.
Trotz said Barzal was fine after the hit.
— Hockey Hound (@HockeyHoundShow) February 19, 2021
New York fourth-liner Matt Martin went after Matheson late in the game. Martin received a minor penalty and a 10-minute misconduct penalty.
New York center Brock Nelson was also unhappy and voiced his displeasure.
“I think guys take notice,” said Nelson. “It’s a fast game and things are going to happen. You just want to respond in a positive manner and make it hard on him moving forward. Let him know that we didn’t appreciate some plays, but at the same time, we just have to play our game. That’s the bottom line.”
Take note, that is two New York voices who said New York has to make it harder on Matheson.
Anders Lee poked at Matheson and Martin went after him following a whistle late in the third. Evgeni Malkin and Scott Mayfield tangled near the Penguins bench during the final 90 seconds. Each also earned a 10-minute game misconduct.
Game on, Saturday night.
Stick tap to our colleagues at NYI Hockey for the postgame quotes.
UPDATE: PHN asked Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan about the situation. While Sullivan avoided the New York public warnings, he addressed the hit and Mike Matheson.
“Well, I don’t think Mike is a dirty player. He was trying to defend,” Sullivan began. “Mathew Barzal is a real dynamic player. He’s elusive. I think (Matheson) is simply trying to defend as best he could. It was unfortunate the way it happened, but I don’t think there was intent.”