Thursday, March 1, 2012

GTOPG: Debating The Nystrom-Letang Hit; Pens Win 4-3

By GTOG Staff

Kris Letang left the Pens-Stars game last night after getting hit in the head by Eric Nystrom.  Letang had a concussion earlier this season, and the simplest way to put this is that if Letang is out again for any extended period of time, the Pens are f'd.

Here's the hit.

And here's Mike Milbury and Jeremy Roenick arguing about it:  (Don't eat while watching).

We at GTOG agree that Jeremy Roenick is still pissed about the 1992 Finals and is an intellectual lightweight, but we have differing opinions on NystromLetangGate.

Artistry: Whether you think Eric Nystrom's hit on Letang was clean or dirty or somewhere in between, it doesn't matter. It shouldn't have happened. How many players - star players - need to be concussed before Jeremy Roenick realizes it's not Sega 1993 out there anymore?  The puck was at least five feet away from both players when Nystrom made contact with Letang's face. The Penguins defenseman was as vulnerable as a darkhorse Bachelor contestant in the Fantasy Suite. There shouldn't be any ambiguity about what Eric Nystrom needs to do in that situation: Avoid the hit. The inevitable next-day debate about the legality of these plays is potent cocktail of miserableness: you take an injury and you add meaningless analysis, tedious Brendan Shanahan videos, and Mike Milbury. It's unpleasant, and it's unhealthy for everybody. Just ban hits to the head already.

Finesse: I don't believe that Nystrom had a responsibility to avoid the hit.  In fact, he's been coached to make that hit since he was 12.  We, as Penguins' fans, LOVE when our guys hit the opposing defensemen.  That's what Grind Bitches Down is all about.  Chris Kunitz spent the entire spring of 2009 hitting defensemen who didn't have the puck.  That might explain the rather tame reaction to the hit from the Pens.  In this particular case, Kris Letang reached for the puck at the last second and it caused his head to dip much lower than where it would be if he was standing up straight.  Nystrom did what hard forechecking forwards do -- he took the body, and he did so without raising his arms at all toward Letang's head.  The point of Nystrom hitting Letang was not to injure him, it was to wear him down and make him think about getting hit every time he went back for the puck.  The fact that the puck was not on Letang's stick at the exact instant he was hit shouldn't matter.  Letang had made a play on the puck and Nystrom went to finish his check.

Roenick, however, is wrong to blame Letang.  This incident was not anyone's fault.  Letang made a play to clear the puck out of his zone and Nystrom made a play to forecheck an opposing defenseman without intentionally targeting the head.  If you think Nystrom should be suspended, that's fine.  But if that happens, then we need to be clear what is being punished: a legitimate hockey play that, because of circumstances, resulted in contact to the head.  Now that we know so much about the impact of concussions, maybe the league would be right to punish that.  But it's wrong do have expected Nystrom to do anything differently.

More on the game after the jump...

- Huge character win for the Penguins. Dallas is a desperate team with heavy doses of skill and sandpaper up and down the lineup, they did a better job containing Evgeni Malkin than any Eastern Conference team in recent memory, they knocked out Kris Letang, and the Penguins still won.

- Letang is the engine of this Penguins team. He's one of the single most dominant players - not just defensemen - in the league. If we took every team apart and put all the players back into a 30-team draft, he'd be a Top 20 overall pick. Take him out of the lineup again for some indefinite period and watch the ice shrink before your eyes. Nice jinx by our man, Ron Cook.

- This game was a great example of our Man Theory at work.  The Pens have the best top-end talent in the league and superb goaltending.  But what wins hockey games like last night is having real men on your team, the following guys in particular: Chris Kunitz, Pascal Dupuis, Matt Cooke, Brooks Orpik, and Craig Adams -- guys in their early thirties who are far from the most talented players in the league, but have a unique combination of skill, experience and old-man strength.

When men could be men.
- If you see Craig Adams on the bench sniffing like a dog next to a fire hydrant, it's because he smells the playoffs.

- Pierre Maguire and friends were really pumping Deryk Engelland's tires last night, and, make no mistake, we love Deryk Engelland. When he launched Nystrom into the net with a clean body check, he knew exactly what he was doing and that he was precisely the man to do it. But we also see Deryk Engelland for what he is: a third-pairing defenseman who lacks first-step quickness. He gets exposed against quick forwards, and that happened several times on Wednesday. Engelland's performance is going to be crucial in the playoffs and down the stretch, particularly if Letang is out.

Message Sent.
- Joe Nieuwendyk traded James Neal to the Penguins last season for one reason: the Dallas GM liked Jamie Benn even more than he liked Neal. Taking nothing away from Jimmy Neal, but last night, we saw why. Benn is an absolute monster.

Solid player, easy to hate.


  1. I'm with Finesse on the hit. Letang's move was sudden and I think that not only was Nystrom not going for his head, he wasn't going for a hit, but rather the puck. Then Letang's head got in his lane. But as much as you don't want your forwards letting up on the forecheck because the defenseman might bend down, you don't want your d-man to give up the puck in the corner because someone is forechecking.
    And I agree with both you guys that this team, who found a solution for the lengthy absences of Sid, Geno, and Staal, has not yet found a way to succeed without Kris Letang.

    About the Goligoski-Neal trade, it was really interesting to read what Goligoski had to say about it. The guy is growing into a serviceable all-around defenseman, which he would never gotten a chance to do in Pittsburgh. The Pens had a center for Neal, Dallas had the ice time for Goligoski. Despite what a lot of people say, this trade looks to me as much a win-win as it was a year ago (please, nobody get hurt now, please...)

  2. I'm just tired of it. There's always an excuse, especially once Feb. hits. Typical blame the victim mentality that has put how much talent on the sideline: Sid, LeTang, Backstrom, Toews, Pronger, Horton... The list is so fricking long I can't even remember a portion.

    What's it going to be - six months, a year, a year and half before we see Tanger again? There's no chance he'll be back with a second concussion in four months.

    So here's another season gone without two top-flight talents. Much as I love this game, why watch it when there's little to no chance the team will be intact come playoff time? Why spend to the cap when when large portions of it will spend half the season or more in the press box?

    And more importantly, now that this year of the core is lost: who will it be next year? Geno? Staal? Sid again? Neal? Someone will throw a shoulder into one of their heads to slow them down. Every player in the league knows there are no consequences for recklessness. I'm not saying they intend to send guys off the ice. They just don't care. And why should they?

  3. Take out a few seats and make the rink bigger. Watch the scoring go up and the injuries go down.