If there’s any reasonable argument that the kind of hit from behind that Evander Kane of the San Jose Sharks laid on Matt Benning of the Edmonton Oilers Tuesday at the SAP Center has a place in the game of hockey at any level, I haven’t heard it. Yet there it was, right in front of referee Graham Skilliter early in the second period of a game the Sharks went on to win 5-2. No call.
Kane, making his debut with the Sharks after being acquired from the Buffalo Sabres, sent Benning into the corner boards head-first with a push from behind – a crosscheck to the numbers about six feet from the boards — on a play that led to the 1-1 goal by Joe Pavelski. The good news is Benning managed to wobble to his feet by the time Pavelski put the puck in the net. He got up.
That kind of hit – a push from behind near the boards – has been burned into my brain for more than 30 years now, dating back to a WHL game between the Regina Pats and Moose Jaw Warriors in March of 1987 when Troy Edwards did the same to Brad Hornung of the Pats. Hornung went head-first into the end boards. He never got up. Horning was rendered a quadriplegic. I was covering the WHL in Kamloops then and I’ve never forgotten it.
I don’t know how many times I’ve seen the same kind of push from behind since then. I’ve lost count. A lot of people asked via Twitter and other social media Tuesday if it’s going to take a player NOT getting up for the NHL to get serious about taking that kind of play out of the game. Well, that’s already happened and yet plays like that, like the hit on Benning, remain. Skilliter was right there. No call. I don’t get it.
NO EXCUSE FOR IT
That's not a penalty on Kane leading up to the goal? That's outrageous. That's embarrassing. Referee right there when Benning pitched into the boards from behind.
— Robin Brownlee (@Robin_Brownlee) February 28, 2018
I fear that one day the NHL will have a young player paralyzed or killed during a game because of their lack of enforcement of head shots and boarding. Unacceptable.
— Todd Kirkpatrick (@TKirkpatrickYLL) February 28, 2018
I may risk people calling me an Oiler-fan for pointing this out, but this is bad joke NHL. A really f….g bad joke. Zebra standing right there, didnt see it? And you are celebrating this goal that came as a result? Do you understand the game at all over there? https://t.co/erVnW7uITu
— Jouni Nieminen (@OnsideWithJouni) February 28, 2018
The NHL even Tweeted video of the play as a goal highlight. For his part, Kane offered what I thought was a pretty lame take on his interpretation of the play. “It was tricky, but they hard-rimmed it and it hit the ref,” he said. “(Benning) kind of stopped quickly and lost his balance and I just kind of bumped him a little bit. Probably looked worse than it was, but was able to create the turnover and we put it in the back of the net.”
In the Regina incident so many years ago, Horning swallowed his tongue. Regina’s trainer grabbed a carpet knife from the arena Zamboni driver and cut an airway into Hornung’s trachea to keep him alive until help arrived. It was ghastly. Benning, and Kane, got lucky Tuesday. Oilers’ coach Todd McLellan, at least on the record, downplayed the incident. “They scored on the play, the player that was cross-checked into the boards was unavailable to help on the play, so I would say that had something to do with it,” he said.
You think? That kind of hit has to be eliminated from the game at every level and it has to be done now. Let’s not wait until the next player doesn’t get up.
Benning showed a lot of brass by mixing it up with Kane on a later shift after he’d cleared his head. While I suspect Benning would have been overmatched had the gloves come off and the two not been separated by the linesmen, the fact he didn’t back down is a good sign. I thought Milan Lucic, who was on the ice with Kane right after the cheap shot on Benning, should have come calling. Send a message. I’m not sure why Lucic, or somebody else, didn’t.
It’s been 27 games without a goal and counting for Lucic, who had his chances and banged a shot off the post, but no cigar. While it goes without saying Lucic is struggling mightily, you can see that he’s hustling and working. The problem is results – at times, it’s been an ordeal for him just to give or take a pass – and that’s the bottom line. The way I see it, it wouldn’t have been a bad time to take a poke at Kane. Get something done.
THE NEW KID
I can’t say Pontus Aberg stood out to me in his Oiler debut after coming over from Nashville at the trade deadline until he set up Jesse Puljujarvi for the 4-2 goal six minutes into the third period. Sweet feed. Smart play. It’ll take some time for Aberg to get used to new linemates and settle in, but he looks quick, as billed, and picked up that point in 12:56 of ice time. We’ll see lots of more of him, as well as Ethan Bear, down the stretch. By all reports, Bear is a terrific kid. We’ll see how far away from making a serious run at a roster spot next season he is in the remaining games.