The follow-through of New York Ranger forward and honest player Brandon Prust's elbow on New Jersey Devil defenseman Anton Volchenkov. (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
One of the biggest non-calls in Game 3 was a head-shot performed by New York Rangers forward Brandon Prust on New Jersey Devils defenseman Anton Volchenkov. Prust clearly got his elbow up high and he struck Volchenkov in the back of the head. The referees decided to let that go, only blowing the whistle to stop play as Volchenkov was lying on the ice from the impact for a few seconds. Devils head coach Peter DeBoer said it was headhunting, as reported by Dave Lozo in this story at NHL.com. Lozo's story has a video of the act; I've included it after the jump in case you missed it on Saturday.
The league has taken another look at the hit and decided it was worthy of additional punishment. Tom Gulitti confirmed at Fire & Ice on Sunday that Prust will be suspended for one game. That means he won't play in Game 4 on Monday. I think this suspension is a fair one. Elbowing someone in the head is absolutely unnecessary and dangerous. It's fortunate that Volchenkov continued to play in Game 3. Given that he practiced on Sunday as per this post on by Gulitti, I think it's fair to say that he'll be fine going forward. That said, the violent act is exactly what the league should try to eliminate from the game. Given that he'll miss an Eastern Conference Finals game, this one-game suspension carries more weight than a one-game suspension in the regular season. So I'm fine with it.
Will the Devils have a better chance in Game 4 now that the Rangers do not have Brandon Prust? I don't think so. Let's be frank, Prust sitting out for a game isn't the same as Giroux sitting a game. Prust has exactly one assist and 17 shots on net in 17 playoff games. According to Behind the Net, his on-ice Corsi rate is -15.82. The Rangers won't miss the minimal offense or his inability to drive the play forward. Prust is a bottom six player; he has averaged 13:08 in this post-season. So his suspension doesn't create a large void in minutes that a call-up or scratched player can't fill in for a game. The Rangers lean on their top two lines anyway. Prust does play regularly on the Rangers' penalty kill, though. He's averaged 1:50 of shorthanded time per game. Given that the Devils' power play has been muddling in two out of their three games against the Rangers, his absence may help out a little bit. Overall, I don't think Game 4 is any easier or more difficult with this news. The Devils still have to solve Henrik Lundqvist, with or without Prust.
I do hope Prust and the rest of the Rangers get the message from this suspension. I'm sure the league explained it to him in simple words that he didn't catch him by his knee. He honestly hit him in the head. Even a missed call on a head-shot does not mean it will be missed after the fact. This is a lesson that even John Tortorella can learn. Based on his comments in this post by Andrew Gross at Ranger Rants, it's clear that Coach Never Scared is too frightened to get his head out of the sand and accept his players have done wrong. Then again, he's had his head in the sand in this entire postseason given Mr. Safe is Death's gameplan apparently "Hope Lundqvist stops almost everything, get bodies down low to help, and get timely goals." Comical, as DeBoer retorted, is a perfect word for it.
Please continue on after the jump for a video of the hit in question and some quick thoughts about the new lines from New Jersey's practice on Sunday. (Update: I've included Shanahan's video explanation from NHL.com)
And here's Shanahan's explanation of the hit. It's recommended for those like the New York Post's Larry Brooks, who think the suspension was an "arbitrary decision without explanation."
I'd be remiss if I didn't include a few thoughts about the new lines in practice. Gulitti reported today from the Devils' practice that Jacob Josefson was on the third line today and that he is expected to play in Game 4. The odd man out is Petr Sykora, which is an understandable move. Sykora has enjoyed get possession numbers but that's been a function of riding with Patrik Elias or going up against the Flyers, who the Devils uniformly wrecked at evens. Sykora's two goals and two assists in this postseason are as many as each of the fourth liners and Alexei Ponikarovsky. The fourth line has been who they are; and Ponikarovsky at least has size and can kill some penalties. Sykora doesn't and hasn't contributed much in this current playoff series.
Like the Prust suspension, I'm not sure whether Josefson will contribute much. Usually, a player coming off a significant injury needs time to get back into form. Moreover, Josefson is still very inexperienced. His form is actually still unknown. Putting him on a third line makes sense, especially in a home game where he can be sheltered to a degree as necessary. However, I don't know whether he'll provide a significant contribution to an offense that still has to figure out Lundqvist. In the same vein, I'm unmoved by the other line changes. I agree with DeBoer that it's not a "panic move," and I can see how moving Elias to play with Ilya Kovalchuk and Adam Henrique can possibly get him going. I believe those two have been attempting to do more than Sykora and Dainius Zubrus. That said, the Devils did a whole lot right except for scoring in Game 3. I'm not certain that different line combinations for the first three lines may not magically create "finish." Maybe they'll make the plays where it'll happen. At this point, whatever works is fine by me. Game 4 is a must-win, after all.
Now, I want to know what you think. Do you think Brandon Prust's one-game suspension is a just punishment? Do you think his suspension will have a significant effect on Game 4? Will Tortorella whine about this; and how much should we roll our eyes when he does? What do you make of the new line combinations? Do you think they'll work? Will Elias get going? Will Sykora be missed? What can we reasonably expect out of Josefson? Please talk about the new lines as well as Prust's suspension in the comments. Thanks for reading.