Former Dallas Stars winger James Neal wasn't the only member of the Pittsburgh Penguins to cross that line from physical play to extreme idiocy during Sunday's first-round game against the Philadelphia Flyers, but he, along with Arron Asham, probably took the biggest flying leaps over that line.
Late in the third period and with his team getting thoroughly outplayed, Neal took a pair of runs that violated several key tenets of the rulebook. The first of these was the hit on Sean Couturier, seen below:
By my count, this violates interference and charging and probably illegal check to the head, depending on the degree you believe the head was targeted. But it's a flying leap on a player when the puck was well gone and patently illegal.
Remarkably, there was no penalty called on the play, which allowed Neal to go and lay a similar hit on Claude Giroux. Neal was not given a minor penalty for that play either, though he was given a 10 minute misconduct to get him out of the game. After the Giroux hit, he immediately went back to the bench despite the Flyers looking for his head on the ice.
And this is not the first headshot incident in Neal's career, though the rest occurred before such plays were illegal.
For video of those incidents and a discussion of a possible suspension, head after the jump.
Neal does have a history of going up high with hits, even dating back to his time with the Stars. Here are two of the two more notorious incidents, starting with a hit against Derek Dorsett of the Columbus Blue Jackets.
He received a 5 minute major for boarding and was suspended two games for boarding for this hit. In hindsight, that's pretty fair.
And from a few months later that season on Petr Prucha of the Phoenix Coyotes.
He was not suspended for this hit, which given that headshots were allowed at this time seems understandable.
Now, to be fair to Neal, headshots were not illegal at this time these two incidents happened. The first version of rule 48 didn't come into existence until the 2010-11 season, when it was limited to blindside or lateral hits. The full on ban on targeting the head is new this year.
He did receive a $2,500 fine for high sticking earlier this season as a member of the Penguins.
Now, as far as the length of a possible suspension for Sunday's hits - these were two patently illegal and dangerous hits, the exact type the league wants out of the game. And Neal is a repeat offender in both the 18 month window and prior history with headshots outside of that window.
But he also scored two goals for the Penguins in the game, and the NHL is loathe to suspend guys who are difference makers unless they go Marty McSorley-type idiocy. Combine that with the fact that Arron Asham is also probably getting suspended for a first-period match penalty on Brayden Schenn, and I can see the league chickening out of suspending Neal for the 2-3 playoff games this probably deserves.
What say you?