In the penultimate game before the Olympic break, Columbus went into Staples Center to do battle with a somewhat fragile L.A. Kings squad that had only won once in their last ten games. The Blue Jackets were coming off a 4-2 victory over Anaheim on Monday.
The game was bookended by a goal from each club, with the Kings netting the overtime winner. Columbus played a decent game, although they took a few too many penalties. Los Angeles was unable to convert on their power plays, but the parade to the penalty box might result in some tired legs for tonight’s tilt versus the San Jose Sharks.
Both the Blue Jackets and the Kings play a physical brand of hockey, and L.A. was expected to leave it all on the ice, as this was their last game before the break. What was also left on the ice was the back of rookie defenseman Ryan Murray’s head after an open-ice charge from Kings captain Dustin Brown.
Brown took a few strides before making contact with Murray. Although he had his arms "tucked," Brown’s right forearm/elbow made first contact with Murray’s head. Brown came at him with enough force that replays show he ended up leaving his feet. The resulting collision bent Murray over backward so that the back of his head bounced off the ice.
"Obviously, didn’t like that hit on Ryan (Murray)," said Nick Foligno. "He was in a pretty vulnerable situation. I didn’t like that (Dustin Brown) only got two minutes for that."
Brown was given two minutes in the penalty box (Charging) for the infraction. A case can be made that this should have been an illegal check to the head penalty, as the principle point of contact was Murray’s head and Brown was on an upward trajectory that carried him up and over Murray on the follow-through.
In essence, Murray’s head was targeted. He didn’t deliberately put himself in a vulnerable position, as he was playing the puck. Brown made absolutely no attempt to play the puck, instead opting to try and level Murray.
At the very least, this met the criteria for a five-minute major penalty (Charging). NHL Rule 42.3 states, "The Referee, at his discretion, may assess a major penalty, based on the degree of violence of the check, to a player guilty of charging an opponent."
Also applicable is NHL Rule 42.4, which states, "The Referee, at his discretion, may assess a match penalty if, in his judgment, the player attempted to or deliberately injured his opponent by charging."
If the head is targeted, as Murray’s was, how can there not be intent to injure? Dustin Brown has garnered a reputation for not necessarily being a player of the "Ivory Snow" variety. He has never been 99 44/100 percent pure with his play while delivering controversial hits. He has been suspended once, for two games, for elbowing the Minnesota Wild’s Jason Pominvelle.
"The hit certainly stirred up a lot of emotion in me," said Blue Jackets head coach Todd Richards. "The way that I saw it, our player was vulnerable and in a vulnerable position, the distance traveled, he (Brown) left his feet. To me it looks like it was a forearm right to the chin and the primary point of contact was the head."
"I don’t know what else you have to do to get a five-minute major. The guy (Brown) has done it before."
The fact that this happened early in the second period (5:14) and Murray did not return until the third period should have been a flag to the NHL that maybe they need to review this hit. The league Friday morning decided that no further review was necessary.
The National Hockey League cannot have it both ways. They say they are serious about eliminating hits to the head with the prevalence of concussions among players. Talk is cheap. The NHLPA says they are serious about protecting the players. A common ground must be found to review every hit to the head, regardless of whether a player is injured or not.
What harm would it cause to review every hit to the head? It would take a bit of time, that’s all. The National Hockey League lost another opportunity to show by their actions that they are taking the steps to eliminate these types of hits from the game.
Would Dustin Brown getting tossed from the game for the hit on Ryan Murray have altered the game? Who knows? That’s not the point. The players and the fans deserve better from the NHL than the lip service they are being paid.