Anton Volchenkov took out Brad Marchand with an elbow to Marchand's head in the second period of last night's 5-4 loss to the Boston Bruins. The play immediately stopped, Marchand went down and was helped off the ice to the bench, and Volchenkov received a five minute major penalty for elbowing and a game misconduct. In my recap of the loss, I stated that Volchenkov should be suspended for the hit. Earlier today, the National Hockey League Department of Player Safety agreed as Volchenkov had a hearing for the play and was given a four game suspension for it. NHL Senior Vice President Brendan Shanahan explained the reasoning behind the suspension in the following video from NHL.com:
The big point that Shanahan made that I didn't grasp live was how unnecessary Volchenkov's actions were. He could have thrown a body check, something he's known to do. He could have just contacted Marchand. Instead, he went high for no good reason. It would not have won him the puck. It would not have allowed him to gain possession back. It was just a high strike for the sake of one. I'm perfectly fine with the length of suspension given. I feel the discipline was deserved and that feeling was vindicated in watching this video.
How will this affect the New Jersey Devils? At even strength, not much. Volchenkov has the lowest average ice time per game among all Devils defensemen at 15:40 and the lowest even strength average ice time per game at 12:51. According to the 5-on-5 numbers at Behind the Net, Volchenkov has had a positive on-ice Corsi rate, but the defensive defenseman has played against relatively weak competition and received more offensive zone starts than defensive ones so he's been sheltered to a degree. Basically, Volchenkov is a third-pairing defenseman. I'm confident that Adam Larsson and Peter Harrold, the most recent scratched defensemen, can fill his spot at evens even if they don't throw big hits or sacrifice everything to a fault for a block. Even without the suspension, it's an easy argument that either are better defenders than him. At a minimum, they are far more mobile than A-Train.
The concern with Volchenkov's absence will be on the penalty kill. While Peter DeBoer doesn't rely on Volchenkov in regular even strength situations, he's usually the first choice on a PK pairing alongside Bryce Salvador. Volchenkov is second on the team in average shorthanded ice time per game at 2:46. He hasn't been frightful either in 4-on-5 situations. But someone's going to have to move up in the PK pecking order for the next few games. I would think Andy Greene, the team's top defenseman this season, would move up to the first pairing and Mark Fayne will stay on the second when he's in the lineup. Those two have averaged over two shorthanded minutes per game so I think they'll be bumped up first. That fourth spot may be a toss-up between Adam Larsson and Henrik Tallinder, who are fourth and fifth on the Devils in average shorthanded ice time per game respectively. Neither are great options but better them than Peter Harrold and Marek Zidlicky. We'll probably find out . My guess it's Larsson because he's received more time and has played against stiffer competition when active. Larsson didn't play in the Boston game as he took a shot to the foot in Tuesday's practice but should he be ready for tomorrow night, it could be him. If so, I hope he decides to play most of it with his head on a swivel, aware of what's going on around him.
What do you think of the suspension on Volchenkov? Is four games fair? Did Shanahan's video change your opinion on the hit and/or the discipline issued? How do you think the Devils will do without him? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about the play and what the Devils defense will do without Volchenkov in the comments. Thank you for reading.