Monday, May 1, 2017

Matt Niskanen on Crosby Hit: Not Intentional

Matt Niskanen spoke to reporters after Washington's 2-1 overtime win over the Penguins in Game 3 of their best-of-7 series, telling reporters that he didn't intend to hurt Sidney Crosby.

What did you expect?

The Capitals' defenseman crosschecked a falling Crosby to the head late in the first period of Game 3, sending the Penguins' star to the dressing room and creating some really bad blood between the two teams, who combined for 37 penalty minutes in the rough-and-tumble affair.

"It wasn't intentional," said Niskanen. "I've seen the replay. In super slo-mo it looks really bad. I caught him high--he's coming across trying to score and as he's doing that he's getting lower and lower and when it's happening that fast, my stick and his head collided. I wasn't extending, trying to hit him in the head--it happened quickly."

Niskanen added: "I wasn't even trying to crosscheck him with a serious amount of force. A collision was going to happen there in the crease. When the play first starts I think my stick's at about his arm level, probably right about where the numbers are on the side of his jersey and because he's trying to make a play he's getting lower and lower."

When asked if he expected to hear from the NHL about the hit, Niskanen said the following:

"If they call I'll talk to them. I hope he's okay. I certainly didn't mean to injure him. It was an unfortunate play that happened really quick."

Capitals' coach Barry Trotz also said his piece about the hit, calling it a "hockey play," and saying "He just sort of ran into him. Unfortunately Sid got injured there. It's just hockey--it's a hockey play. Unfortunately he got hurt."

That answer didn't satisfy a reporter named Rob Rossi, who comicaly (in our opinion) grilled Trotz not about Niskanen's hit, but about the high-sticking infraction committed by Alexander Ovechkin on the same play that he felt contributed to the awkward collision and should have been called.

"Is the play by Alex that led to Sid sort of staggering into Niskanen where he appeared to get the stick up towards the face--is that a hockey play?"

See Trotz's full answer below:

There are sure to be many takes on this play, such as this one from Greg Wyshinski, who states that the penalty would not have been as severe on the ice if it wasn't Sidney Crosby getting injured.

Well, that's always going to be the case, because players are always going to try to be sneaky about hurting the other team's best players if they can get away with it, and I don't think that's ever going to change about the way referees call games. That said, Niskanen definitely crosschecked Crosby to the head, and while it really does look like it was a tough hit to avoid because of the way that Crosby was dipping, the truth is that Niskanen probably could have spun away or at he very least not used the stick on him.

Different angles tend to generate diffent opinions. We've seen a few where it looked horrible and malicious, but a few others where it looked innocent and like neither player could do anything about it.

It's impossible to figure out intent on this one, so how should we view the hit without knowing intent? It was a hit to the head, so the 5-minute major and game misconduct are merited, but beyond that it's very hard to imagine the NHL Department of Player meting out any further punishment.

It's already looking like they will not.

It was an unfortunate turn of events, made even more maddening by the fact that there really is no concrete evidence to guide those tasked with deciding on appropriate discipline for Niskanen. There's just a whole lot of grey, black and blue, and nothing in between.

All we can hope for now is a clean bill of health from Crosby in the not too distant future. The series will not be the same without him.