Following an interminable wait, the National Hockey League on Monday suspended Penguins forward Arron Asham four games — the balance of the current best-of-seven Eastern Quarterfinal — and James Neal has drawn a one-game ban for actions taken during Sunday’s 8-4 loss to the Flyers in Game 3.
Interestingly, Neal was only issued one decision for a pair of hearings today — both of which ended around 10 a.m. (et). He was not punished for his original misdeed — an open-ice blind-side hit to Sean Couturier after the 19-year-old had gotten rid of the puck — but rather for his later strafing run over the top of Claude Giroux’s head in the third period.
“While we are willing to accept Neal’s assertion that he jumped to brace himself for an unintended collision, the fact that, 42 seconds later, he launches to prior to making contact with Giroux, is not acceptable,” said NHL department of player safety VP Brendan Shanahan in a late Monday video explanation of the hits.
The former Dallas Star should have been considered a repeat offender under current rules, as he served a two-game suspension back in November of 2009 for a hit from behind committed against Columbus Blue Jackets winger Derek Dorsett. In that particular incident, Neal left his feet to make an apparent check on Jackets defenseman Marc Methot, but nailed his teammate instead.
Asham was hit with an automatic match penalty for cross-checking Brayden Schenn in the throat, then delivering several more hard shots while Schenn lay on the ice in the latter stages of the first period. The 34-year-old former Flyer was originally granted an in-person hearing but later selected to pass up that opportunity.
“Reacting to his teammate being hit, Asham skates directly toward Schenn from the middle of the ice and intentionally cross-checks him high and with force. He then punches the defenseless player in the back of the head. Asham’s stick never actually makes contact with Schenn’s face. However, the violent, vengeful nature of the cross check is unacceptable,” Shanahan added.
“We have taken into consideration that Schenn escaped serious injury as a result. It is also important to note that while he is a physical player, Asham has not been fined or suspended during his 13-season NHL career.”
That makes three players out of the lineup for Wednesday, as Craig Adams is expected to serve a mandatory one-game suspension thanks to his instigator penalty for starting a fight with Scott Hartnell in the latter stages.
Pittsburgh has never rebounded from an 0-3 series deficit, having the tables turned on it by the New York Islanders in 1975.