Phaneuf Must Phace Music on Saturday
This recommendation is not a critique of Phaneuf's crushing mid-ice check in Thursday's game that sent Islanders rising star forward Kyle Okposo to the hospital with a concussion. We've all seen these incidents enough to know the arguments:
If you're for the Islanders, Phaneuf left his feet, nailed Okposo in the head with an elbow and shamefully used a practice game to make a personal statement that he's not getting softer. If you're for the Flames, Phaneuf never left his feet, obliterated Okposo with a clean shoulder hit and was simply "just playing his game." If you're NHL discipline czar Colin Campbell, you're preparing a ruling that will make everyone think, "Really?"
None of it matters. On Saturday night, Phaneuf should face the music.
Two seconds after Phaneuf knocked out Okposo, scrappy 5-10 Islanders farmhand Pascal Morency leaped over the bench (in a barely-legal line change) and went after the Calgary defenseman. Despite Phaneuf being 6-3, 215 pounds and capable of handling himself, two Flames and -- get this -- two NHL linesmen blocked Morency's path of payback. Later on, when Islanders power forward prospect Matt Martin challenged Phaneuf, 6-0 seventh defenseman Mark Giordano took the fight instead.
Phaneuf was repeatedly challenged -- this was a preseason game, so scoreboard be damned -- and the all-star defenseman elected not to engage. Surely, he could have held his own against the enforcer-less Islanders.
Maybe Phaneuf can live with that, but I think he made a mistake on Thursday night. He sent an opponent to the hospital with a violent, pre-meditated hit. The least he could have done was give the Islanders one man-vs-man opportunity to settle the score. Isn't that part of "The Code" hockey people have been preaching about for a century?
The story of his surprising refusal to answer the bell will extend into the weekend. The Flames play the Islanders in Saskatoon on Saturday. There's little chance Phaneuf was on coach Brent Sutter's original lineup card for the game. It's even more unlikely he's in the lineup now.
Phaneuf should show up. He should give the Islanders their shot. He doesn't even have to play a lot of minutes. He could ask to be in the starting lineup and the Islanders can assign any of the 50 players they have in camp to exact revenge. Since the Islanders are one of the few teams in the league without an established heavyweight anywhere in their system, Phaneuf should be able to sleep on Friday night.
If Phaneuf doesn't play, his teammates will be forced to stand up for him through 60 minutes of grueling hockey in Saskatoon while he's having dinner somewhere back in Calgary. This being the NHL, someone could get hurt.