For any Pittsburgh Penguins fan who watched the Penguins game on Thursday night, Washington Capitals forward Tom Wilson was again a dirty villain. Late in the first period, Wilson clobbered Mark Jankowski at full speed, but the puck was well past and Jankowski was defenseless.
When pressed about the hit or appropriate responses, the Penguins deferred to officials and reiterated they had to play their own game.
Officials gave Wilson a two-minute interference penalty, though it easily could have been a major penalty and a call from the NHL Department of Player Safety isn’t out of the question.
“It doesn’t matter. The referees are going to make the calls. They’re going to call it as they see it,” Sullivan succinctly said. “We’re just going to play.”
Penguins defenseman Cody Ceci did put a good open-ice hit on Wilson in the second period, but for those expecting traditional hockey justice or Wilson to answer for his crimes, that was the extent of the frontier justice.
The player on the receiving end of the hit had good reason not to talk too much about it. He didn’t see it coming.
“I whacked the puck out of the air into their end,” Jankowski began. “I turned, I was about to go change, and I got hit.”
Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan responded to PHN’s open-ended query about the Penguins response following the hit with a head shake. Washington gained control of the game following their penalty kill and for most of the second period. We intentionally left the question vague without specifically asking about momentum swings or retaliation, but Sullivan wasn’t going to bite.
“It was fine. We’re just going to play the game,” he said while shaking his head. “Teams are going to try to play physical against us. They always do. We’re just going to try to play the game that gives us the best to win. And that’s what we try to do. The referees are going to call it as they see it…”
The Penguins took four penalties on Thursday night, but none were of the roughing variety. Indeed, there was only a couple of scrums in the second period.
On the ice, the Penguins reverted to their old mantra, “just play.”
When asked specifically if the Penguins should have confronted Tom Wilson, Brandon Tanev decidedly didn’t touch the subject, either. He, too, brushed past the topic without a hint of public engagement.
“Obviously, we saw the play develop and what happened. The refs thought it was a penalty and made the call,” Tanev said. “It’s not in our control. It’s up to the refs… we’ve got to continue to play the game and play the game the right way.”
Perhaps this is when reporters not being in the locker room or allowed anywhere near the players is a good thing for the team.
The Penguins’ public refusal to admit engage allows the team to discuss it internally. Or not discuss it at all. The Penguins’ response stands in stark contrast to the New York Islanders’ response to Mike Matheson’s hit on Mathew Barzal nearly two weeks ago.
New York head coach Barry Trotz did his best NYC wiseguy and hinted at retaliation without ever saying it. Trotz called the hit a “vicious crosscheck,” though that seemed an exaggeration.
“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.”
That’s a nice defenseman you’ve got there. It would be a shame if something happened to him.
New York center Brock Nelson expressed his displeasure with Matheson and promised to remember, too.
“I think guys take notice,” Nelson said. “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…”
The Penguins President of Hockey Operations is Brian Burke, who coined the term “truculence” a decade ago when describing what he wanted from his Toronto Maple Leafs team. New GM Ron Hextall cut his teeth with and worked a long time for the Philadelphia Flyers, an organization that prizes physical play.
What might they have said?
Though it’s probably for the best that the Penguins did not exhibit loose lips. The last time the Penguins engaged in a war of words, Tom Wilson got the jump on Penguins defenseman Jamie Oleksiak and nearly knocked out Oleksiak before the Penguin could even square for a fight.