Look, I get it. These are heated rivalries, and the players either hate each other or are willing to buy into the mob mentality. But this goes beyond that.
Three seconds into the cross-river rivalry tonight, three fights broke out. Wow. How often can you say that?
Well, it probably didn't help that both coaches seemed pretty set on starting out with some blood.
The away team puts out its line first, and Devils coach Pete Deboer put out his thugs to start: Ryan Carter, Cam Janssen and Eric Boulton.
Okay, that's obviously a message to the Rangers, namely: "Get ready for things to get rough." How Tortorella responded, though, seemed more like a teenager's brash decision than a solid coaching move. Sure, he put out his thugs, Brandon Prust on one wing and Mike Rupp on the other, but who takes the faceoff? Defenseman Stu Bickel, the 6'4" defenseman who, according to game announcers, had never taken a faceoff.
What followed was predictable: the puck dropped, the gloves dropped, and soon, the bodies started to drop. When all was over, Carter was bleeding on the ice, Bickel's face was cut up, and each penalty box had three unimportant players in them.
So what's wrong with that, you may ask. Well, realistically, if you're asking that question, you're not gonna follow my point here. But the fact is, and I mean this is no small sense, it is embarrassing when a game starts out in such a brutal manner.
Sure, Rangers fans got fired up, Devils fans got fired up, maybe some other hockey fans who were watching got fired up too. But how about the people who had just tuned into the nationally-televised game to try to see some good hockey? How many casual fans are going to stick around through the three-ring circus that apparently was necessary to this game?
I am not 100 percent against fighting. I do recognize that it serves a purpose in a game. But why do two teams—who already have a fierce rivalry, already hate each other and already want to destroy each other—need to fight the second the game started? What message is that sending?
Sure, the winner of the fights might gain some momentum—if one team is lucky enough to clearly win. In this case, the sheer amount of blood lost by Carter seemed to imply a Rangers win, and sure enough, the Rangers scored in the next couple minutes.
The way I look at it, though, is that rather than starting out a game with the intent to win, these coaches are starting out without a single skilled player on the ice by choice. Once the fights ended and the blood was scraped off the ice, Richards, Gaborik, Kovalchuk and Parise took the ice. So apparently goal-scoring was in each coach's mind, just not even close to the first priority.
Personally, I'd love to see both of these coaches suspended. I think that Deboer made a poor choice by sending out his thugs to start, and that Torts reacted quite literally as poorly as possible—short of slipping Brandon Prust a shank—and the result was that a game between two skilled teams turned into a rumble.
I actually happened to miss the Rangers' goal, thanks to the fact that I had to change the channel just to get away from the ridiculous sideshow the game started out as. I wonder how many other viewers decided to just stop watching.
I don't have any statistics here to say that fighting is hurting the game, and I'm sure there's just as much data out there suggesting it helps. But realistically, if the NHL is trying to win over fans, they're not going to get much more than bored UFC fans if they decide to let games keep opening like this.
I'm sure it's easy to write this rant off as either the opinion of someone who doesn't understand the game, or as someone who's sour that his team went down early. For what it's worth, I assure you, this is not that.
I love hockey. I love watching hockey. And again, I understand that fighting plays a role in the game. But on a nationally-televised game, the idea that three fights are a necessary obstacle to watching good hockey is a real shame, and ultimately, it's the game that suffers.