As media joked with Pittsburgh Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan that an existing rope line in the Tampa Bay media room existed to prevent defenseman Mark Friedman from fighting the media, Sullivan joked the Penguins have that very same rope in the locker room.
It’s been a minute since the Penguins regularly deployed a fearless scrapper who added an element of unpredictability. Someone who stirs the pot and roils opponents’ emotions to the edge of chaos.
Patric Hornqvist could do it in front of the net, but it didn’t spread to war all over the ice. Before that? Maybe Bobby Farnham. Matthew Barnaby. Matt Cooke?
It’s surely been a while since the Penguins had someone willing or able to create intense anger. And Friedman surely doesn’t shy away from a challenge.
“I tend to go after the biggest guys on the ice, which probably isn’t the smartest thing to do, but that’s just me. And again, if I can draw a penalty out of it, like we did going into the third, then so be it,” Mark Friedman said after the game.
“Maybe next time we play them, they’ll have a picture of me in their room or something, but whatever. Just being me, and that’s how I play the game.”
The Penguins eventually had a two-man advantage after Friedman’s wild ride in the final minutes of the second period. Tampa Bay forward Corey Perry slashed Friedman’s stick to the ice, then hacked at Penguins goalie Tristan Jarry at the whistle. So, Friedman put Perry in something close to a sleeper hold and slammed him to the ice.
All hell broke loose. What ensured was nearly an old-fashioned five-on-five line brawl, though no one dropped the gloves. Friedman and Perry got roughing calls, though Perry got an extra roughing call to create a Penguins power play.
Tampa Bay coach Jon Cooper was incensed, got tossed, and the Penguins then had a full two-minute 5v3 power play with a chance to effectively put the game out of reach.
Friedman also antagonized the guy they call “the big rig,” Pat Maroon, a Stanley Cup playoff warrior. Maroon is also 6-foot-3, 238 pounds of anger. And yet, officials had to separate Maroon from Friedman in the second period.
All in a night’s work for the 5-foot-11, 185-pound Friedman, who has the distinction of being GM Ron Hextall’s first acquisition after taking the Penguins GM job. Friedman languished as a depth defenseman in Philadelphia. When the Flyers tried to slip him through waivers, Hextall pounced.
Mark Friedman, Pittsburgh Penguins Beginning
If you wonder just how agitating Friedman can be, recall his second game as a Penguins defenseman last season. The game was the second consecutive game against the Flyers, and Friedman was a marked man. His very recently former team went after him like he insulted Ed Snider’s ghost. Who knows, he probably did.
Our headline on March 4, 2021, was ‘Wild Night for Mark Friedman; Gets First NHL Goal Almost Knocked Out.’
Friedman was knocked out of the lineup for several weeks with a concussion because of that game. Philadelphia center Nolan Patrick boarded him; it should have been a major penalty, but official Tim Peel only dished a minor penalty. Friedman left the game temporarily with an apparent lower-body injury. After returning, he took a run at Patrick but got the worst of the collision and was out of the game.
Friedman was out for weeks and never regained his opportunity to fill one of the Penguins’ six spots. That his former team was so intent on knocking him down was eye-opening. Last may, Philadelphia defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere was suspended for two games for boarding Friedman well after the Penguins defender scored an empty-net goal.
That’s an ax to grind. Friedman had good things to say about Pittsburgh to the Jewish Chronicle, though he didn’t have good things to say about the city of Philadelphia.
“There is more of a homier feel than Philadelphia. It’s not as busy, not as noisy, nicer people. It’s not as dirty, especially in Cranberry where I live. It’s just a great neighborhood,” Friedman told the Jewish newspaper.
Mark Friedman’s Way
But back to Friedman’s refire on the Penguins blue line. Defenseman Mike Matheson is out week to week with an upper-body injury. Instead of top prospect P.O. Joseph, Friedman got the first chance to fill the spot.
In his first game on Sunday, Friedman activated and created offensive chances against the New York Rangers. He was every bit noticeable, in a good way, during the 1-0 win.
Thursday night against the two-time defending Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning, Friedman had a different sort of game, but effective nonetheless.
“I try not to do it after the whistle, but if I can get under a guy’s skin and he takes a penalty after the whistle, so be it. And if we get up 5v4, I like our chances,” Friedman said. “And yeah, I try to keep everything during the whistle, and it just so happened in that scrum in front of the net (Perry) was a little dirty, so I took some liberty in front of the net and worked it out my way.”
It sure made for some emotional hockey.
Head coach Mike Sullivan praised Mark Friedman, but with a bit of a cautious warning, too.
“You know, we want him to play his game. We want him to be who he is, but he’s got to make sure he stays on the right side of the line. The type of team that we have here and the type of game that we’re trying to play requires discipline in a lot of forms. And so, we don’t want to be a team that beats ourselves, and we want to be a team that plays to our strengths.
…And I thought ‘Freeds’ was, you know, he kept his discipline on that,” Sullivan said.
Officials overlooked the Perry slash that knocked Friedman’s stick to the ice. Friedman was somewhat lucky to escape the melee with a lesser penalty. Officials don’t usually give the player who was bodyslammed to the ice an extra penalty.
Friedman crossed the line in October 2021 when he speared Columbus Blue Jackets forward Sean Kuraly near the net. The NHL didn’t appreciate his actions, either.
It’s been a minute since the Penguins had a player who would so readily engage. Perhaps Sullivan will keep the rope around Friedman’s locker. Injury has again presented Friedman an opportunity to establish himself in the NHL, albeit a temporary shot which could have bigger implications with the NHL trade deadline just two weeks away.
Thursday night was just Mark Friedman’s 31st NHL game, but he sure made an impression. Again.