Thursday, March 7, 2013
The Backhander - Grim Scene In Sens Loss Sets Off Another Dead-End Fighting Debate
It’s somewhat rare to see someone actually get knocked out in an NHL hockey fight, but that danger is always there when 200 pound men start punching each other in the face. Just ask Nick Kypreos. And last night we all saw 6’5, 230 pound Leaf enforcer Frazer McLaren drop 6’3, 204 pound David Dziurzynski with a vicious blow to the chin, resulting in the Senator lying face down on the ice with trainers rushing to his side. It was ugly. No question about that.
Makes you wonder what Dziurzynski was thinking by taking on a bigger and clearly superior fighter like McLaren. Well, it’s actually not that hard to figure out. McLaren allegedly asked him “to go” and Dziurzynski obliged, partly because he wants to do whatever it takes to stay in the NHL and also because he found himself in a bad situation where backing down from a challenge would have made him “lose face”.
Such is life when a team like the Senators, without a real enforcer since Matt Carkner departed for Long Island, faces a team like the Leafs with a couple of guys looking to justify their role and give their team a lift. If Ottawa had signed or at least replaced Carkner with a similar player, chances are Dziurzynski doesn’t have to fight in that situation. He may have wanted to anyways and there’s nothing you can do about that, but generally an enforcer like McLaren won’t fight a regular, smaller roster player if there’s a guy like Carkner on the other team. That’s the way it works. Or supposed to anyways. McLaren doesn’t want to be known as a guy who takes on a smaller player and would have challenged Carkner in that same situation last year. But the problem is that there’s no natural partner for him on the Senators. So he asks Dziurzynski to go and that’s what you get sometimes – a mismatch that results in a sickening injury. You could tell McLaren felt bad about it and looked upset heading to the box as Dziurzynski lay there.
And then you look at it from the Senators perspective. All year they’ve watched their star players fall to injury and been outmatched physically at times because Zack Smith and Chris Neil aren’t fighting as much because their team needs them on the ice. Facing their biggest rival, a young AHL’er like Dziurzynski wasn’t about to back down even though he must have known he was in tough against the big Leaf. This also resulted in Neil having to fight the bigger Colton Orr (Carkner's former sparring partner), and even though Neil got the better of him in a close one, the Leafs ultimately win because Neil goes off for 5 minutes and that’s not a fair trade for a player like Orr.
Often, playing an enforcer just evens the odds up. If the two tough guys go at each other, they cancel each other out and the game goes on. In this situation, Ottawa lost both Dziurzynski and Neil, two guys who actually contribute points and quality minutes. The Leafs didn’t really lose anybody who would make much of a difference. So like it or not, employing an enforcer can really take some pressure off your team and serve as a deterrent. Sometimes it can actually lead to less fights, if you follow the argument to its logical end, or at least mismatched fights that lead to ugly scenes like we saw last night in Toronto.
In the end, Dziurzynski made his own decision and knew the risks. All players do. That’s why most of them don’t fight. It’s extremely hazardous. If you relate it to the visor debate, some would say that the league should just take it out of the player’s hands and ban fighting (and legislate mandatory visors, which I support wholeheartedly). Yet time after time, players share a much different view than the guy pushing a pencil for a living. They take all the risks, they want the choice. They keep saying they don’t want mandatory visors. They also keep saying that fighting is part of hockey and useful in certain situations. They’ve never wavered from this and show no signs now, even though player safety is pretty much the only issue we hear about on a daily basis.
It always comes down to fans and media thinking they know more about the game than the players do. That’s all it is. How else do you explain the chasm in opinion? The public can’t understand why anyone ever has to get hurt in a game, yet the players don’t even think about it. It’s just an accepted risk that they gladly take on for millions of dollars.
Take the emotion out of it and that’s what you come to realize. At some point there’s nothing left to argue if the guys who actually take the risks don’t have a problem with it.
.... Dziurzynski was credited with 3 seconds of ice-time last night. I don’t know if that’s a record but if it’s not, he’s only 2 seconds off of it..... Somehow Kyle Turris wasn’t credited with any giveaways on the stat sheet last night, which only proves how stat guys don’t always get it right. He had at least two blatant ones that I can recall but it felt like a lot more. Another tough night for #7. If it wasn’t for his faceoff ability, some of his recent games would have been a complete wash. If anything, it gives the fans a new appreciation for what Jason Spezza brings to the team when he’s healthy. Even when Spezza has a bad game by giving up the puck in the offensive zone, he’s creating 3 or 4 chances a period. Good news is that it sounds like he’s going to be back sooner than many thought. That’s going to give Turris a lot of room out there and a lot less pressure, which should naturally lead to goals. Hopefully it’s not too late for the Senators by that point..... Erik Condra only racked up 11 minutes and change of ice-time against Toronto and it’s been like that 3 out of his last 4 games. Yet he always seems to be on the puck or creating havoc out of nothing. I’m no coach, but you’d like to see Condra around the 15 minute mark most nights, even when there’s not a lot of penalties to kill. Somehow, Condra ended up a +2 last night, leading the team. The last game against Toronto on Feb. 23 he was +3. He hasn’t had a game yet this year where he was any worse than -1. ... Congrats to good guy Ray Emery for setting an NHL record with 10 straight wins to start a season. Nobody deserves it more... And finally, RIP to Stompin’ Tom Connors. One of my most treasured pieces of vinyl is the Stompin’ Tom Live At The Horseshoe Tavern in Toronto. I always thought of him as a modern Canadian Woody Guthrie. Have a drink for him next time you get the chance. I know I will.