By Ryan Black, Sports Talk Philly editor
It’s no secret that fighting is withering from the NHL. Through about 360 games played league-wide this season, only 63 fights have occurred, meaning your chances of seeing fisticuffs at a game up to this point have been about one in six.
The enforcer role is functionally dead. John Scott’s 2016 All-Star experience looks more and more, in retrospect, like NHL fans’ collective nostalgic swan song for the sort of physical grunt every team once carried. There’s still a handful of big, old-school fighters skating on NHL rosters, like Ryan Reaves, has played in every game so far this season for the Vegas Golden Knights. Reaves can contribute otherwise, however — he has three times as many goals as Dale Weise, for example — though he’s been involved in two of the season’s 60-or-so scraps so far.
The league leader at this point is New York Rangers winger Cody McLeod, with four. He’ll be stuck at that number for a while, though. He fittingly broke his hand fighting Ross Johnston of the New York Islanders last week.
Fortunately or unfortunately, depending on your perspective, a little bit of goonery still exists in the league, and that's where we start this week's Around the NHL.
Rough Stuff Still Abounds: Friday night brought a pair of ugly and strange examples of hockey violence, both in the Western Conference.
First, in the Minnesota Wild’s victory over the Winnipeg Jets, a fight broke out in the Winnipeg bench. Tensions were high in the third period after JT Brown of Minnesota crushed Andrew Copp into the glass. Winnipeg’s Adam Lowry responded by elbowing Joel Eriksson Ek in the jaw just a few minutes later in front of the Jets bench. A skirmish instantly broke out, and Wild players Marcus Foligno and Nick Seeler found themselves pushed through the open bench door and into a whole crowd of opponents ready to get after them. No suspensions came from that affair, though some lucky Winnipeg players likely got a few bonus punches in. Copp, the victim of the earlier hit that may’ve started the mayhem, went through the concussion protocol and missed the Jets’ next game on Saturday night.
An even sillier event occurred later that evening between the San Jose Sharks and Vancouver Canucks. Late in a very one-sided Sharks blowout, tempers flared and a small scrum broke out featuring Canucks grinder Antoine Roussel and Sharks defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic. Roussel is second only to Brad Marchand in penalty minutes, and as officials attempted to separate the pair, he decided to make some mouth-based NHL disciplinary headlines of his own…by biting into Vlasic’s hand as it passed by his face. The incident was obvious and caught by cameras, and the Canuck received a $5,000 fine, which is bizarrely the maximum penalty one can receive for such a transgression.
Laine is Going Off: Remember early in the season when Jets wunderkind Patrick Laine was struggling and was briefly demoted to the fourth line? Neither does Patrick Laine. He’s currently on an insane goal-scoring tear, having potted 16 goals in his last 10 games after scoring just three in his first 12.
The signature flourish of his two-plus week rampage came on Saturday, when he erupted for five goals against a hapless St. Louis Blues, now coached by Craig Berube. The young Finnish winger scored once in the first, a hat trick in the second, and another in the third period. All but one of his snipes came from inside the face-off circle — his favorite spot — with the exception coming from directly between the circles in the slot.
It was the first time a player had put in that many in one contest since Detroit Red Wing Johan Franzen did it in February of 2011. The feat has only been achieved 60 times before in the tens of thousands of games played in NHL history.
"I'm surprised that it hasn't happened sooner," Jets coach Paul Maurice said of his third-year forward’s incredible night.
We've Got Another Hideous Leg Injury: They just don’t make legs like they used to. Just days after Caris LeVert of the NBA’s Brooklyn Nets and Alex Smith of the NFL’s Washington Redskins suffered stomach-turning leg injuries, Vincent Trocheck of the Florida Panthers had to be stretchered off the ice after an equally brutal scene. The promising young center went awkwardly into the boards during Monday’s game against the Ottawa Senators, screaming and writhing on the ice after his right leg bent in a way that it absolutely is not supposed to.
The Panthers seemed somewhat mum about the injury, though they announced midweek that Trocheck had successfully undergone surgery for a fractured ankle. He’s listed as out indefinitely, but team general manager Dale Tallon said in a statement that he was “confident” that the player would return this season. “I’ll be back before you know it,” Trocheck tweeted shortly thereafter.