Jim Rutherford makes his mark with the Penguins roster construction. And the fists continued to fly with his signings.
After one too many disappointments by the Penguins from the front office, the Penguins brass decided it was time to move on from Ray Shero and Dan Byslma in the summer of 2014. In comes Jim Rutherford who instantly began rebuilding the Penguins on the fly.
Rutherford’s first moves were changing up the roster construction as he traded James Neal for Patric Hornqvist and Nick Spaling along with signing winger Steve Downie with some more reinforcements who will make appearances in today’s recap.
With the Penguins beefing up under Rutherford’s guard, they finished tied for third most fights in the league in 2014-15 by dropping the gloves 33 times. Despite the Penguins willingness to fight, I watched all of them, the Penguins were on the losing end on most of, but not all, those fights.
You’ll see tomorrow the drastic difference in the Penguins approach with the emergence of Mike Sullivan behind the bench. But for now, here’s the forgettable Mike Johnston Era in fighting!
Fighting may be steadily disappearing from today’s game, but it’s still one of the most unique and influential aspects of hockey. Just ask Max Talbot (circa 2009) if fights actually make a difference in a game. Fighting may not be common these days, but they still exist for a reason.
10/9/14 – Zach Sill vs Clayton Stoner
Once again the season started off with one of the best fights of the year. The first matchup of the 2014-15 season saw two men going toe-to-toe at center ice for an impressive amount of time.
With the game clearly out of hand, Zach Sill and Clayton Stoner agreed to dance and both sides connected a large amount of punches on each other. Sill got the better of Stoner, despite dropping to the ice for a moment, as Sill recovered and finishes Stoner with several devastating blows while Stoner is in an awkward position and goes to the ice.
Great work by Sill in this one to hang in there after taking some big shots but also taking down an opponent with a size advantage. This was the highest ranked Penguins fight this year, and was the fourth highest in the NHL that season, with a rating of 7.85 on hockeyfights.com.
2/19/15 – Sidney Crosby vs Brandon Dubinsky
Fighting isn’t Sidney Crosby’s best ability, but he hasn’t been afraid to drop them throughout his career when the situation arises. The Penguins-Blue Jackets rivalry was just budding from the season before and the two teams met towards the end of the regular season with both teams fighting to make it to the playoffs.
Crosby and Brandon Dubinsky were no strangers after that playoff series and in this game Dubinsky had his sights set on Crosby along the corner wall, looking to inflict some pain. Fortunately, Crosby reacts quick enough but isn’t able to evade Dubinsky and a scrum ensues which escalates to a fight after Crosby has had enough.
Crosby’s gloves come off a hair before Dubinsky’s and neither really has a clear advantage in this bout. Dubinsky may have landed a few body shots on Crosby, but it was Crosby who landed the last and hardest punch in the fight which likely satisfied Crosby enough as he quickly wrestles to the ground and both parties come away unscathed.
12/20/14 – Kris Letang vs Willie Mitchell
This one wasn’t so much about the fight, but rather an incident that happened during the fight to Kris Letang.
After Patric Hornqvist came crashing to the net with his patented disregard for the opposing goalie, a scrum ensues and Letang and Willie Mitchell find themselves alone and decide to fight, if that’s what you want to call it. Neither side really had a chance, but were both penalized five minutes for fighting.
While the referees were separating the two, Mitchell continues to throw punches, which isn’t unheard of in a hockey fight but not a good look, but Mitchell then rips Letang’s helmet off and wildly swings it towards his head like his name is Myles Garrett.
Unlike Myles Garrett, Mitchell received no discipline whatsoever from the incident. I just figured I’d include this one since Letang’s rough season continues below.
1/20/15 – Pittsburgh Penguins vs Philadephia Flyers
When the Penguins and Flyers meet, especially during this time, there are guaranteed to be some fireworks in the game which usually leads to fights. That was the story of this game, as three fights broke out and it was one of the chippiest games of the season as the Flyers totaled 59 PIM and the Penguins added 34 of their own.
The Flyers won 3-2 in overtime, but this one will be remembered for the dirty boarding penalty by (obligatory P.O.S. reference) Zac Rinaldo on Letang that resulted in an eight-game suspension for Rinaldo.
Fortunately, Letang would return a week later after sitting out the next game and All Star break. He also happened to have one of his best games in his return, recording five assists against Winnipeg.
That hit by Rinaldo turned this game on a dime, and it didn’t stop bubbling until the clock hit zero.
Zach Sill vs Michael Raffl
Zach Sill paved his way to the NHL by fighting many times along the way. Michael Raffl’s story is likely the same, but he figuratively fought his way to the NHL as opposed to Sill’s path.
Sill comes in high and late on Raffl, and after a brief stare down, the two agree to a fight. Raffl isn’t completely lost in a fight, but Sill is clearly the more skilled fighter and dodges Raffl’s first two haymakers before Sill lands multiple upper-cuts that appeared to connect before one more overhand as Raffl grabs Sill and brings him to the ice to stop the beating.
Rob Scuderi vs Jakub Voracek
Shortly after the Sill-Raffl tussle, Rob Scuderi hits Jakub Voracek with an old-fashioned hip check along the boards that sends Voracek into the air. Voracek jumps right back up and goes right after Scuderi. Voracek received an instigator and misconduct for that, but he and his team likely thought it was well worth it as he rips Scuderi apart in this fight.
Scuderi isn’t much of a fighter, and I don’t remember him dropping the gloves any other time as a Penguin, but it was surprising to see Scuderi get knocked around like he did. Any chance you have to punch Voracek in the face, you better be able to do it. It was all Voracek in this one, however.
This wasn’t the last fight of the game, though.
Bobby Farnham vs Pierre-Edouard Bellemare
Bobby Farnham’s time with the Penguins wasn’t very long, but it sure was loud. When Rinaldo hit Letang earlier in the game, the announcers mentioned it was Farnham who was chirping the loudest from the bench. Farnham also dished out some questionable hits in his short stint, and wasn’t worth the trouble he brought along with the brief spark he may bring to the table.
Late in the 2nd period in this game as the chaos was continuing, Farnham dug Bellemare out of scrum and it appeared they both finally agreed to a fight after several attempts by Farnham I’m assuming.
It was a short lived mistake from Farnham, however. Bellemare coolly and calmly holds off Farnham’s initial attack before ringing Farnham right on the bell and drops him with one of the hardest punches a Penguins player received all season.
Once again, this fight was all Flyers and they carried that momentum into overtime and skated away with a hard-fought 3-2 victory.
10/18/14 – Steve Downie vs Travis Hamonic
Steve Downie introduced himself to Penguins fans early in the season as he completely destroys Frans Nielsson with a charge that caught the attention of Travis Hamonic. Downie was expecting a response and instantly found himself in a fight with Hamonic.
Downie may have connected with a shot or two, but Hamonic likely won the scorecard as he landed many more shots than Downie, with Downie resorting to grabbing hold of Hamonic and slamming him to the ice in the end.
This will be the story with Downie all season as you’ll see, with him being the spark for a fight and the Penguins coming away worse off in the end. Downie led the NHL in penalty minutes that season, his only season with Pittsburgh.
11/22/14 – Steve Downie vs Travis Hamonic
Just over a month after the two squared off the first time, the two teams met once again and the two danced once again.
Hamonic was the clear winner in the first scrap, but Downie was the clear winner in this one. Downie ties Hamonic’s right arm up immediately, preventing Hamonic from throwing punches, while also freeing his own arm to throw away without much resistance.
Downie manages to remove Hamonic’s helmet and connects over and over with direct punches to Hamonic’s head. Hamonic eventually frees himself and throws some wild jabs that don’t connect cleanly as Downie connects several more times, dropping Hamonic and evening the score card at one win each which is the way it remained the rest of the year.
11/8/14 – Steve Downie vs Mike Weber
Midway through a game the Penguins were dominating, Downie found himself a dance partner with notable tough guy Mike Weber of the Sabres. This time, Downie would be the one who comes through in the end as the winner. Downie came away with 61% of the votes with Weber only receiving 15%. This was about as a one-sided win for Downie in his one year with the Penguins.
12/13/14 – Steve Downie vs Brandon Dubinsky
After Dubinsky made an earlier run at Downie in this game which sparked a fight between Bobby Farnham and Jordan Leopold of the Jackets while the refs broke up Downie and Dubinsky, Dubinsky makes another run at Downie who wasted no time answering by dropping the gloves.
This fight was short lived but Downie cleanly lands several shots before Dubinsky loses his footing and falls to the ice. Not the best fight, but always nice to see Dubinsky get punched in his ugly mug.
3/28/15 – Steve Downie vs Shane Doan
This is the last fight of the year for the Penguins, and probably the single-best reason why Rutherford wanted Downie in the first place. After Shane Doan got tangled up with Letang earlier in the game, resulting in an awkward collision between Letang and the boards that ended Letang’s season, Downie allowed Doan to answer to “the code.”
It seemed that Doan actually asked Downie at first and was more than willing to right a wrong. Doan is a tough customer who can take care of his own business and was also the captain of the Coyotes, so his willingness should come as no surprise. He knew what was coming and obliged to take the heat out of a hot kitchen.
After neither side gets a clear advantage in the first 20 seconds of the fight, Downie breaks free and impedes Doan’s vision with his jersey and connects with two or three heavy blows that knock Doan’s helmet off and knock his head back as the referees step in as they are trained to do when a player’s jersey blocks their eyesight.
It was nice to see Downie finish the season strong and avenge his fallen teammate, but unfortunately Kris Letang would not return that season and the Penguins didn’t clinch a playoff position until the final day of the regular season. The season ended in a whimper, once again falling to the New York Rangers, this time in five games.
But don’t worry folks, the 2015-16 Pittsburgh Penguins would quickly become a championship caliber team a few months after this bitter defeat when Jim Rutherford traded for some fat, lazy, hot dog eating, cookie craving, soda pop drinking Yankee named Phil Kessel.