When a team leader goes down after an awkward check, chances are someone is going to be called to task. That was what happened on Monday between the Washington Capitals and the San Jose Sharks when Joe Thornton ended T.J. Oshie's night with a hit to the head.
While checking Logan Couture into the boards, Oshie lost his balance and his body and head went low to the ice. A trailing Thornton came in to finish his check and hit Oshie's head into the boards. The hit was a little late as the puck was already gone and the point of contact certainly looked like the head. But with Oshie being lower to the ice Thornton struck him with his butt. Not the butt of his stick, his actual butt.
Do you really think that was his plan?
The Caps didn't, evidently, as they were actually quick to defend Thornton after the game.
"Joe's not a dirty player," Barry Trotz said.
"He's an honest player," Tom Wilson said. "He was one of my favorite players growing up. He's what's good for the game."
Thornton is in the 20th season of his incredible career in which he has amassed 953 points. Whenever he decides to retire, if he is not a first-ballot Hall-of-Famer, then the voters are doing something wrong. Bottom line, he's not a goon.
Given who he is and the respect he carries around the league, that changes the conversation as you can tell by the Caps' comments.
But that doesn't mean they were fine with the hit.
"In that instance, that hit, I didn't like personally and I don't think our team liked," Wilson said. "Anytime a guy is down, it's kind of a no-hit zone."
Wilson called Thornton to account for the hit in the third period and Thornton obliged as the two dropped the gloves and fought.
Tom Wilson and Joe Thornton got into some extracurricular activities. 👊 pic.twitter.com/eM4SH7acUg— NBC Sports Capitals (@NBCSCapitals) December 5, 2017
Whether there will be any supplementary discipline remains to be seen. Neither Wilson nor Trotz would comment on whether they felt the hit was dirty and Trotz said he would let the Department of Player Safety handle it.
Problem solved, right? Well, not for San Jose coach Pete DeBoer. DeBoer took issue with the fact that the Caps waited until the third period to demand satisfaction.
DeBoer: "If someone would have grabbed Joe in the heat of the moment after the play because they thought a liberty was taken, then I’ve got no problem with that. To go into the dressing room, think about it, come out in the 1st shift and do that premeditated crap is just garbage”— Isabelle Khurshudyan (@ikhurshudyan) December 5, 2017
But to the Caps, a bad hit is a bad hit no matter when it happened.
"It looked like Osh was in a very vulnerable spot and he gets head contact," Wilson said. "That's what it is. That's the truth. That's the fact of the matter. Hockey's a sport where you're able to go out and stand up for your teammate."
He also threw in one more compliment Thornton's way.
"He stood up for himself afterwards and I respect him for that."