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Williams, Backstrom support crackdown on head shots


Williams, Backstrom support crackdown on head shots

Capitals veteran right wing and three-time Stanley Cup champion Justin Williams didn’t mince words when asked his thoughts on the 41-game suspension San Jose Sharks forward Raffi Torres received for his check to the head of Anaheim Ducks forward Jakob Silfverberg.

“It’s perfect,” Williams said. “Absolutely perfect. He’s become somewhat of a menace on the ice now.

“It’s not the way the game’s played anymore, not that it ever should have been.  My thoughts are what everyone else’s is: enough is enough. We all play the game hard, but those hits don’t belong anymore.”

The 41-game suspension was the longest since 1927 when Billy Coutu was banned for life for starting a bench-clearing brawl by attacking two referees. It was the fifth NHL suspension for Torres, who was also fined three times and warned twice for previous hits to the head. Torres will forfeit $440,860.29 in lost salary.

“The thing with him is that he’s done it over and over again and I think that’s why the NHL put its foot down and saw it was something wrong,” said Capitals center Nicklas Backstrom, who four seasons ago missed 40 games with a concussion after an open-ice blow to the head from former Calgary Flames forward Rene Bourque. Bourque received a five-game suspension for the hit.

“When you do it over and over again you don’t realize you’re actually hurting people instead of trying to play,” Backstrom said, “and that’s why I think it’s the right decision by the NHL.”

Capitals left wing Jason Chimera agreed that players need to be protected from illegal checks to the head, but as a former teammate of Torres (the two played together in Columbus) he sympathized with the 33-year-old winger.

“I know Raffi personally and he missed almost the whole year (last season) with his ACL and MCL rebuilt,” Chimera said. “Knowing him he was probably pretty jacked up just to be out there and do everything he could to get back into his game.

“He’s been known for big hits on the borderline of being dirty and not dirty. I don’t think his intention was to go over and hit (Silfverberg’s) head. It was to finish his check. Unfortunately, the principle contact was his head and obviously you don’t want to see anyone down like that. You don’t want Backy and guys like him down. It’s an unfortunate incident, for sure. Forty-one games is pretty stiff.”

Here is a list of the longest suspensions in NHL history, courtesy The Canadian Press:

Life: Billy Coutu, Boston Bruins, April 1927 for assaulting two referees and starting a Stanley Cup bench-clearing brawl. The ban was dropped after 2½ years, but Mr. Coutu never played in the NHL again.

41 games: Raffi Torres, San Jose Sharks, Oct. 5, 2015, for a check to the head of Anaheim Ducks forward Jakob Silfverberg.

30 games: Chris SimonNew York Islanders, Dec. 19, 2007, for slamming his skate into the foot of Pittsburgh Penguins forward Jarkko Ruutu.

25 games: Raffi Torres, Phoenix Coyotes, April 21, 2012, for launching himself to deliver a late hit to the head of Chicago's Marian Hossa during a playoff game on April 19, 2012.

25 games: Jesse Boulerice, Philadelphia Flyers, Oct. 12, 2007, for cross-checking Vancouver centre Ryan Kesler across the face in a game on Oct. 10.

25 games: Chris Simon, New York Islanders, March 11, 2007, for the rest of the regular season (15 games) and playoffs for his two-handed stick attack to the face of New York Rangers forward Ryan Hollweg. Since Islanders played only five playoff games, suspension extended to first five games of 2007-08.

23 games: Marty McSorley, Boston Bruins, Feb. 2000, for knocking out Vancouver’sDonald Brashear with a stick-swinging hit. On Nov. 7, 2000, the suspension was extended by NHL commissioner Gary Bettman to Feb. 20, 2001.

23 games: Gordie Dwyer, Tampa Bay Lightning, Sept. 19, 2000, for abusing officials and coming out of the penalty box to fight in an exhibition game against Washington.

21 games: Dale Hunter, Washington Capitals, May 1993, for a blindside check of Pierre Turgeon of the N.Y. Islanders after a goal in a playoff game.

20 games: Steve Downie, Philadelphia Flyers, Sept. 28, 2007, for leaving his feet to deliver a deliberate hit to the head Ottawa forward Dean McAmmond in a preseason game Sept. 25.

20 games: Todd Bertuzzi, Vancouver Canucks, March 11, 2004, for his sucker-punch of Colorado forward Steve Moore on March 8. Bertuzzi’s suspension was for 13 regular season games, plus playoffs. Bertuzzi was reinstated 17 months later, after the year-long lockout.

20 games: Tom Lysiak, Chicago Blackhawks, Oct. 1983, for intentionally tripping a linesman.

20 games: Brad May, Phoenix Coyotes, Nov. 15, 2000, for hitting Columbus’ Steve Heinze on the nose with his stick in a game on Nov. 11.

16 games: Eddie Shore, Boston Bruins, 1933, for hitting Toronto’s Ace Bailey over the head with his stick.

15 games: (3 regular-season, 12 playoff games) Maurice Richard, Montreal Canadiens, March 1955, for leveling linesman Cliff Thompson during a scuffle with Boston’s Hal Laycoe.

15 games: Wilf Paiement, Colorado Rockies, Oct. 1978, for swinging his stick and hitting Detroit’s Dennis Polonich in the face.

15 games: Dave Brown, Philadelphia Flyers, Nov. 1987, for cross-checking Tomas Sandstrom of the New York Rangers across the face and breaking his jaw.

15 games: Tony Granato, Los Angeles Kings, Feb. 1994, for slashing Pittsburgh’s Neil Wilkinson.

MORE CAPITALS: MacLellan explains why Capitals cut Derek Roy

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The Toronto Maple Leafs are not happy with Caps' Lars Eller

The Toronto Maple Leafs are not happy with Caps' Lars Eller

On Saturday, the defending Stanley Cup champion Capitals faced off against one of the hottest young teams in the NHL, the Toronto Maple Leafs. It was viewed as a marquee matchup and it certainly lived up to its billing with both teams battling in a tight, well-played game.

In the end, Toronto walked away as the 4-2 victors in one of their better wins of the young season, but not everyone left that game impressed.

A team that already boasted super-star talent Auston Matthews added John Tavares in the offseason as a free agent giving the Maple Leafs a formidable one, two punch at center. For most of the game, the Caps were able to shut down that center tandem.

Lars Eller was asked after the game how the Caps were able to keep the Leafs’ big stars in check and he indicated that perhaps Tavares and Matthews were not as formidable a pair as they had been made out to be.

“We’re used to playing against [Sidney Crosby] and [Evgeni Malkin],” Eller said. “Everything kind of drops from there so it’s not that special. It’s a good team like a lot of others. They’ll probably be a playoff team, I think.”

Not surprisingly, that quote caught Toronto’s attention, especially forward Nazem Kadri.

Per Sportsnet’s Chris Johnston, Kadri called Eller’s comments “bulletin board material.”

With 12 points in seven games, the Maple Leafs currently boast the top record in the league. Toronto is far from perfect, however, and their defense remains a major question mark in whether this team is a true Stanley Cup contender.

But as to whether or not they are a playoff team? That seems like a pretty safe bet.

The Caps and Maple Leafs will meet twice more this season on Jan. 23 and Feb. 21. Both games are in Toronto.  



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Capitals are sticking with Chandler Stephenson on the top line… for now


Capitals are sticking with Chandler Stephenson on the top line… for now

With Tom Wilson still serving a 20-game suspension, Washington Capitals head coach Todd Reirden has the difficult task of finding a wing to complement his top line of Alex Ovechkin and Evgeny Kuznetsov. For the first four games of the season, that player was Brett Connolly.

On Saturday, however, he changed things up and went with Chandler Stephenson instead.

Just 18 seconds into the game, Stephenson made his head coach look very smart as he finished off a 2-on-1 with Kuznetsov to score his first goal of the season.

“Obviously, the start was great,” Reirden said after the game.

Stephenson is an incredibly fast skater and the extra speed seemed to add another dimension to that line that opponents had to contend with, and it led to both of the Caps’ goals on the night.

In addition to Stephenson’s goal, Ovechkin drew a tripping penalty in the second period, and Washington scored on the resulting power play.

“Those guys are a lot of fun to play with,” Stephenson said. “They just know where to be and can find each other. I've just got to get the puck to them and just go to the net with your stick on the ice, and they'll find you.”

The top line’s success was a matter of finding instant chemistry as Stephenson had very little time to adjust. The Caps were off on Friday following back-to-back games, and Reirden did not make the switch of putting Stephenson on the top until Saturday’s morning skate.

Putting a new top line together with little time to practice does not seem like an ideal scenario, but according to Kuznetsov, the level of familiarity between all the players made the adjustment quick and easy.

“It doesn't matter with who you play,” he said. “In this locker room, we can communicate with anybody. We don't have a first line, we don't have a fourth line. We try and roll all lines.”

Reirden seemed pleased with the new trio after the game saying, “They did a number of good things during the game as well, so they I thought accomplished a lot. I thought [Stephenson] brought the speed on the forecheck and was able to at least go after their defense a little bit and force some turnovers that Kuznetsov and [Ovechkin] were able to at least get some opportunities from. So I think that's important to have him in that situation.”

Reirden was happy enough with the top line’s performance to keep them together. The team is off Monday, but Stephenson remained on the top line during Sunday’s practice.

But so long as Wilson remains out, finding the right match for the top line will remain a work in progress.

Said Reirden, “We’ll continue to try to put together our four lines that give us the best chance.”