Capitals defenseman John Erskine has been suspended by the NHL for three games and fined $24,324.33 for his hit to the head of Philadelphia Flyers forward Wayne Simmonds on Friday night.
Erskine, who had appeared in five consecutive games, will miss Sunday’s game against the Pittsburgh Penguins at Verizon Center, Tuesday’s home game against the Toronto Maple Leafs and Thursday’s game in Pittsburgh.
The play occurred at 18:09 of the first period against Philadelphia. During a collision in the Washington offensive zone, Erskine stuck out his right elbow and smashed it into Simmonds’ jaw.
“I think it’s really tough because you’ve got two guys going for the puck simultaneously and two big boys and it looked like simultaneous contact to me,” Caps coach Adam Oates said on Saturday before the suspension was issued.
Erskine escaped without a penalty during the game, but Simmonds was knocked woozy and had his nose bloodied. He eventually skated off the ice under his own power, but did not return to the game.
“It looked dirty when I first saw it,” Philadelphia coach Peter Laviolette said. “Tough hit.”
Flyers general manager Paul Holmgren described Simmonds dealing with a head injury and a little bit of whiplash, but no broken nose. But he was held out of Saturday night’s game against the Carolina Hurricanes.
“Two guys colliding going for the puck,” Holmgren said. “But then you see the replay. I don’t know why his elbow came up, but it looked like it did. And I don’t think John’s that kind of player, I don’t think he’s a dirty player. Those things happen.”
Erskine had never been suspended during his 11-year NHL career. He did have a notable incident on Nov. 8, 2011 at Verizon Center against the Dallas Stars when he elbowed defenseman Trevor Daley in the face. The hit drove Daley into the boards and was officially a boarding penalty, but the NHL issued no fine or suspension. This time he wasn’t so lucky.
“From the bench it looked like a clean hit, it looked like accidental contact,” teammate Matt Hendricks said on Saturday. “It looked like they were both fighting for the puck, fighting for position and they just kind of ran into each other. Once you look at the film, it looked a little bit different, but it was an accidental play, if anything, because Erskine isn’t a dirty player.”
But Brendan Shanahan, the NHL’s senior vice president of operations and player safety, still thought the hit required supplemental discipline as an elbow under NHL rule 45. Erskine’s lack of disciplinary history played in his favor, according to Shanahan in a video released by the NHL.
“While we acknowledge there was no malicious intent and that Erskine was reacting to getting beat, this nevertheless is a reckless elbow to the head that caused a serious injury,” Shanahan said.
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