BOSTON -- A nasty hit in the first period of Wednesday night’s Bruins/Senators game resulted in some of the best and worst developments of the season.
Ottawa defenseman Fredrik Claesson drilled Noel Acciari with a shot to the head in the first period of the B’s 5-1 win over the Senators, and that spurred Tim Schaller to drop the gloves and bludgeon Claesson to the ice with a series of right-handed punches. The fact that Schaller stood up for his teammate -- as many Bruins players have been doing this season -- was good.
Claesson was handed a match penalty for his nasty, high shot to Acciari’s head.
“That was a headshot,” said Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy. “I am not going to comment on the intention or not; I just know it was a high shot."
The bad? Schaller was given an instigator penalty for challenging the Ottawa defenseman after the dangerous hit on his linemate. However, he also given deserved props from his teammates for stepping up to protect Acciari, who eventually returned to the game after a temporary stay in the Quiet Room.
"Noel will go to bat for anybody on this team, so it’s good to see Timmy do it [for him]," said Cassidy. "It is well-received in the room. People will have different opinions on hey, ‘Clean checks in hockey and you should be able to take a number.’ I don’t disagree with that, but I think that was a high hit, and Timmy reacted accordingly.”
Schaller waited to make certain Claesson was ready to defend himself before dropping the gloves, and it was entirely called for given that the head shot was bad enough to get the Ottawa D-man bounced from the game. But Schaller was still called for 17 minutes worth of penalties with an instigator call, just as Jake DeBrusk was whistled last month under similar circumstances for a fight with Casey Cizikas after a hit on Charlie McAvoy.
An argument could have been made it was a cleaner hit on Cizikas that started the DeBrusk fight, and that the referees were in the right for going instigator in that instance. But on Wednesday night it was a high, reckless hit by Claesson on Acciari, exactly the kind of dangerous plays where teammates should be allowed to step up and defend a teammate provided the hitter is ready to defend himself.
Instead Schaller was slapped with the instigator call after doing the right thing on the ice, and this humble hockey writer was struck with a major case of annoyance at the referees overreacting. Clearly an instigator is called for when a player jumps somebody not ready, or willing to drop the gloves, but that wasn’t the case -- in any way, shape or form -- with Schaller and Claesson.
“That was a really bad hit, so I had to step in,” said Schaller. “That [instigator call] was interesting. I talked to the ref before I got in the box, and I said I was polite about it. I made sure he [Fredrik Claesson] said yes. So I was surprised when I got it, but it was worth it [to defend Acciari].”
That’s the bottom line with instigator calls when a player is stepping up against a legitimately dangerous, dirty hit: NHL teams with character and good chemistry are going to continue to defend their teammates even if it comes with 17 minutes of penalties. And the instigator call will continue to vex a large faction of the fan base that remembers when the rules didn’t interfere with so much of what makes hockey special.
The good news in all of this: Acciari was okay following sitting out the rest of the first period, and finished out the game after a hit that could been a lot more damaging.