Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Chris Neil: zero or hero?

Driving home tonight, I listened to a bit of local sports talk radio on The Team 1200 and to my surprise, the hot topic wasn’t the Sens big win last night to take a 2-1 series lead but instead what Chris Neil did in the game.

For those of you who missed it, I’ll try and recap as best I can.

First, Neil went after Ruslan Fedotenko when the Lightning forward was digging at a puck in the pads of Ray Emery after the play had been whistled dead. Neil threw some punches and, frankly, was lucky he didn’t get a major. As he was being escorted off the ice (there was less than two minutes remaining in the period so they temporarily sent him to the dressing room), Neil mouthed “me and you” to Sean Burke who had replaced John Grahame in net. Some interpreted this as him saying he wanted to fight Burke (on the TV broadcast it was mentioned that Burke and Neil might have history since both were a part of the big brawl between the Sens and Flyers last year that set a new NHL penalty minute record, but Burke stayed out of it and only appeared in the game when Robert Esche was tossed for fighting with Patrick Lalime, so that theory doesn’t seem accurate to me), but I took as it Neil saying that if the Bolts were going to run his goalie, he would do the same. It was open to interpretation.

Highlights were shown of Neil and Burke jawing back and fourth in between plays when both were at the bench. There seemed to be something going on between them.

After all this, Neil resumed playing a physical game, finishing his checks (clean ones) and playing the role that gets him in the line-up. I suppose this, coupled with Neil’s attack on Fedotenko, his “challenge” of Burke, and the lopsided score, enraged the Lightning. Their toughguy, Chris Dingman was lined up with Neil at the faceoff and before Neil could drop his gloves Dingman began pounding him. Neil turtled and didn’t fight back. Dingman was given a misconduct and put Ottawa on the powerplay for seven minutes.

There seems to be a dispute, even amongst Sens fans, about whether or not this was the right thing for Neil to do, and frankly, I can’t understand it for a second.

Chris Neil absolutely did the correct thing, and instead of being called a coward by fans on local radio (given how many fights he’s been in I find it hard to believe anyone can think that of him), Neil should be commended for excellent gamesmanship.

Let’s remember where this game was at the time of the Dingman incident. Ottawa was up three goals, 5-2, but Tampa, early in that third period, was pressing. Because of the score they were forced to pinch even more and were getting quite a bit of scoring chances. The Senators had stopped skating and the tight coverage in their own zone that was a big part of why they were able to build such a lead had disappeared. Even up three goals the Sens looked to be in some trouble, and having seen two teams come back from three goal holes the night before, I was worried Tampa would come back. Such a thing could and likely would be a series turning point.

Chris Dingman’s penalty ended all that. He squashed his team’s momentum. Ottawa went back on the powerplay, scored another goal, and from that point on, the game was over, even with two more goals scored by each team afterwards. That Dany Heatley PP goal was the backbreaker.

Ottawa has historically been labeled a soft team, often in reference their playoff loses to Toronto. I’ve never bought this. The Sens may not be the Flyers of the 70’s but they’re not a delicate club either. They have some team toughness and more than a few guys who can and will hold their own physically. If we were to rank the toughest teams in the NHL, I’d say they were a middle of the pack club.

Nonetheless, so many Sens fans have bought into this “the Sens are weak!” bullshit that they’ve let it cloud their otherwise good judgment. That’s the only explanation I have for why they would take Chris Neil to task for what he did.

It seems as if they’re more interested in Ottawa proving they’re tough than they are seeing Ottawa win. Let me ask you this, and this goes for fans of any team: would you rather your team be a perennial loser but have the reputation of being a hard, tough group or be a winner and have some people question their toughness?

For me, it’s a no brainer. Call them pussies all day long if you want, as long as they win, I don’t give a shit.

Sometimes Canadian hockey fans are so wrapped up in toughness they forget there are other things involved in the game. You know, like scoring goals? A big hit frequently gets a bigger reaction than a goal. And if a player on the home team pummels someone in a brawl? Forget it. The ovation is massive. Last time I checked winning fights doesn’t mean shit on the scoreboard or in the standings.

What Chris Neil did was shift the energy of the game back in Ottawa’s favor. It was obvious after Dingman was thrown out that many Lightning players were more interested in running around trying to get even with Neil than they were with scoring a goal and making the final score less insulting to them. Neil didn’t mind this one bit, and when a few of them took a run at him and got the worst of it, he yelled a cheer right in front of their bench.

He took them off their game, and I don’t expect it to end with that contest. I imagine a few of them will try and take some runs at him again tomorrow night, and if he can lure them into a penalty in the process, Neil will probably be all for it, because Ottawa can and will bury the Tampa Bay Lightning if given those opportunities.

Is this all poor hockey etiquette? Who can say. But as Tim Taylor said when he picked up the game one puck and threw it in the garbage before the Sens could retrieve it for Ray Emery to commemorate his first playoff win, this is the playoffs. All that stuff is out the window. It’s Ws that matter now.


At 9:09 PM, Anonymous jck said...

Fuckin right, well said. People in the media (DON CHERRY) are just looking to victimize the Sens, digging hard to find anything to complain about.

He helped the team, and showed an uncharacteristic amount of restraint doing it, good for Chris Neil.

At 9:26 PM, Blogger CMcMurtry said...

Yeah I saw Cherry's spiel. I'll probably make a whole new post about it tomorrow morning because I have a lot to say.

At 10:07 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Terrific post. Totally agree with you. My buddies and I all thought it was a smart move on Neil's part.

Neil played 6+ minutes and drew a 7-minute powerplay. How awesome is that?!

At 10:49 PM, Anonymous TomDeChastelain said...


At 1:22 AM, Anonymous PRQ said...

Spot-on. I credit Neil with that victory just as much as any three-point forward.

At 9:29 AM, Anonymous Paul said...

I have always thought of Chris Neil as more than a bruiser and instigator. He fulfils an important strategic role for the team and the fact that he is so smart in the execution of that strategy is a credit to him. When I saw him turtleshell while Dingman was punching him I cackled and clapped. At home. Alone. I clapped I was so delighted. For him to be criticized for such a brilliant hockey play (as brilliant as any breakaway goal) is beyond me and frankly sad.


At 10:03 AM, Blogger ninja said...

Just a thought that might change the situation; Do you think Dingman and Neil had talked about going before the puck dropped? Isn't that usually how these things work? If it was a mugging, good work by Neil to not get dragged into it. If it was pre-arranged by both of them...not so much.

At 10:48 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dingman and Neil fought in Dec 03 and Jan 04 as well, so they have a history.

I don't think Tortorella will allow Neil to affect the Lightning players in Game 4. Tortorella must have been furious with Dingman. It's obvious to everyone that the Lightning will lose if they take penalties, and I think Tortorella gets this message across to his players before Game 4.

At 11:01 AM, Anonymous RaoulDuke said...

I don't think it was a bad play per se, but I had a different reaction to it. It was Tucker-esque. And maybe that's why Leaf fans love the guy so much, because he gets under the skin of opposing players (and fans - I hate him). Even if his methods break the Code sometimes.

Just sayin' - if Ottawa was playing Toronto, and Tucker took Neil's role while Neil took Dingman's, I don't think the reaction here would be as positive as it is right now.

At 11:41 AM, Anonymous Rob Wiebe said...

Absolutely, I agree that Neil's play helped the Sens win. Penalties, especially stupid ones, in the playoffs are often the deciding factor in a game. If Neil can draw some more penalties tonight with similar play, then I say all the power to him.

At 12:21 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The difference between Tucker and Neil is like night and day, and I think that makes all the difference in this case. Tucker has a history of being a diver and a whiner. Sure it might help his team at times, but its contemptible behaviour IMO.

Remember that before McGratton, Neil was the only guy on this team in an enforcer role and was forced to carry the load when it came to fights and sticking up for elite players. He took his lumps in the process, but did his job anyway, without resorting to the cheap shots characteristic of Tucker.

So if Tucker turtled I'd immediately assume he's being a wimp because, frankly, that's perfectly in line with his (lack of) character.

If Neil turtles, I'm far more likely to give him the benefit of the doubt because on so many other occassions, he's stood his ground even when physically outmatched by his opponent.

Good play on Neil's part, and no complaint from me. Neil is tough, and he didn't need to take an offsetting penalty to prove that to me.

At 12:24 PM, Blogger Don said...

You guys will like the pic I put up

Tommy's cousin Tie.

At 12:25 PM, Anonymous PRQ said...

Just a thought that might change the situation; Do you think Dingman and Neil had talked about going before the puck dropped? Isn't that usually how these things work? If it was a mugging, good work by Neil to not get dragged into it. If it was pre-arranged by both of them...not so much.

garfinja, I'd bet that they did talk about it before the puck dropped, and maybe even agreed to fight. But did you see how quickly Dingman jumped on Neil? There wasn't any of the usual circling around to make sure your opponent is committed to it. If Neil didn't plan on actually fighting, Dingman should've been smart enough to pick that up and avoid the penalty. If Neil had planned on fighting, he sure didn't get a good jump, and at the point you have a choice to either (a) try to fight back from a bad position, lose horribly, and give the other team even more momentum, or (b) turtle and draw a big-ass penalty.

So it might have been a smart play by Neil, but in either case, it ended up being a really dumb play by Dingman.

At 12:39 PM, Blogger Ryan Lowe said...

Some really good arguments here! The majority seems to think that Dingman jumped Neil and that Neil did the right thing. I can't agree more and given his post-game reaction, neither can John Tortorella.

Neil gave the Sens a psychological edge to finish off the game. It was absolutely brilliant and no doubt will carry over into future games in the series.

Should Murray play McGrattan now? I think that's a little overboard. Fisher and Neil can enforce against a team like the Lightning. Save McGrattan for the Buffalo series, if it happens.

At 1:18 PM, Anonymous pete said...

The difference between Tucker and Neil is like night and day

About 15 goals, and 30 points, for a start.

At 1:32 PM, Blogger CMcMurtry said...

I don't think dressing McGratton is a good idea. Neil can take care of himself just fine, and it's not as if the Lightning have a lot of tough guys anyway. If they sit Dingman, they have zero pretty much.

And the Buffalo series isn't the place for McGratton either. They're too fast a team to dress a liability like Gratts. Unless Buffalo puts Andrew Peters in, but I doubt that will happen. I believe he's off golfing with Wade Belak and Jeff O'Neill's dad.

At 4:29 PM, Anonymous Rob Wiebe said...

The difference between Tucker and Neil is like night and day

Neil's still playing hockey, for another ...

At 11:35 PM, Blogger atif said...

Very well said. But the way I saw it was that Dingman attacked Neil and before Neil had a chance to fight back he was knocked down and then turtled up out of defence rather than to draw a penalty. But yes, that did swing the momentum back.

At 3:47 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Neil was talking directly to Dingman when he said that. NOT Burke.

Neil is a fucking Coward. Neil The Turtler. Fitting. I'm a Sens fan, and am disgusted by this play. Lost all respect for him.

At 7:52 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

when ottawa played atlanta whos arm did chris neil break?

At 7:53 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

whos arm did chris neil break when they play thrashers


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