The Penguins and Jets came into Wednesday night’s game with beef. When these teams last met, on Feb. 16, the Jets were incensed by an Evgeni Malkin hit to the head of Blake Wheeler. Watch it here and decide for yourself, but the NHL decided it did not warrant any further discipline beyond Malkin’s two-minute interference minor. Quotes from Winnipeg players made it clear that they’d remember the hit next time they played.
The potential for payback was increased to roughly 100 percent when the Penguins called up enforcer Tom Sestito for last night’s rematch, and what do you know? Shit got violent.
Though neither Wheeler nor Malkin are fighters (14 between them in their careers, according to HockeyFights.com), they threw down three and a half minutes into the game. Wheeler definitely got the better of it.
That should have been the end of it! But Sestito decided that the Jets had crossed a line by going after one of Pittsburgh’s best players. So at the very next faceoff, he dropped the gloves with Chris Thorburn.
Later that same dang period, Sestito flattened Toby Enstrom with a dangerous, dirty hit.
Enstrom did not return to the game. Sestito earned a five-minute major and a 10-minute game misconduct, ending his night after just 62 seconds of ice time.
This is hockey at its dumbest. Officials and DoPS allow a hit like Malkin’s last month to go uncensured, and players have no choice but to take retaliation into their own hands. Sometimes revenge is claimed cleanly. Often, it’s not: Non-fighters get hurt in fights, which thankfully didn’t happen last night. Or revenge begets revenge, and teams are locked into a cycle of retaliation that only ends when someone completely unconnected to the original beef ends up getting injured. Like Toby Enstrom.
Maybe the Jets will need to seek their revenge for Enstrom when these teams meet next season.
Malkin’s initial hit was borderline. It’s is a tricky situation for the NHL, because you can’t punish a guy just because the other team got mad. But the alternative is exactly what happened last night: When the league abrogates responsibility for policing a grudge match, it hands that responsibility to the likes of Tom Sestito, and that’s when bad things tend to happen.
Malkin had a pair of goals, and finished off the Gordie Howe Hat Trick in Pittsburgh’s eventual 7-4 win.