The Pittsburgh Penguins lost blue liner Olli Maatta early in their second game against the Washington Capitals, when fellow defenseman Brooks Orpik delivered a late and high hit to the younger Penguins player that forced him to leave the game for good.
The Penguins haven’t yet confirmed how long, exactly, Maatta will need to sit out with his injury – but for the Capitals, this incident lost them Orpik for the next three games.
The NHL’s Department of Player Safety announced on Sunday evening that Orpik, who had previously received just a two minute minor penalty for the hit, has been suspended for the next three games of the postseason over the incident. The earliest he will be able to return to Washington’s lineup will be game six of the Pittsburgh-Washington series (assuming it goes that long).
Per the league, the hit warranted a suspension – and a fairly lengthy one for the postseason, at that – because of the lateness of the hit, the significant amount of head contact involved, and the resulting injury to the defenseman.
“Maatta joined teammate Nick Bonino as he carried the puck into the Capitals zone on the rush. Orpik steps up to pressure Bonino, who quickly moves the puck to Maatta; Orpik peels of Bonino to pressure Maatta, who releases a shot from the top of the circle.
A full second after Maatta releases the puck, Orpik delivers a high, forceful hit, making significant head contact.
It is important to note that Maatta is not eligible to be checked on this play; players who are not in possession of the puck are never eligible to be checked. The interference rule provides a brief window during which the player who initiates a hit while his opponent is in possession of the puck may legally finish a check. This is not such a case.”
The argument from the Department of Player Safety is that no player who has released the puck at the time Maatta did should reasonably expect to be hit at this point in a play; combined with the ensuing injury and Orpik’s suspension history, the three games were awarded.
The reasoning adds that Orpik had been on Maatta from the moment he received the pass from Bonino, and even adjusted his course in order to ensure contact on the play – despite knowing that Maatta was no longer in possession of the puck.