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[Update] Marcus Johansson Suspended Two Games for High Hit on Thomas Hickey

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A rare case where the offender really is "not that kind of player."

This whole rivalry thing is making a hitter out of everybody.
This whole rivalry thing is making a hitter out of everybody.
Andy Marlin-USA TODAY Sports

Washington Capitals forward Marcus Johansson faces a fine or has been suspended for two games for his check to the head on New York Islanders defenseman Thomas Hickey in Thursday night's game, which the New York Islanders lost, 4-1.

The suspension video is embedded below.

Johansson only received a two-minute minor penalty on the play, but most observers immediately figured he might face more upon further review. They were right.

This will be is an interesting case, because though we often scoff at coaches and fans who defend their culprits in this way, Johansson is literally "not that kind of player."

That didn't keep Capitals coach Barry Trotz, whose teams have long been experts at "accidentally" crossing the line on both obstruction and physical play, from blaming the victim or at least act-of-god circumstances. Per the Washington Post:

"I watched it," Trotz said. "Their guy was putting a puck into the zone. Marcus came into him and got him with a shoulder. Marcus is not that type of player at all. It’s unfortunate, but he was bent over when he shot it in a little bit, so his head came down a little bit. Marcus was trying to hit him right through the crest, so I didn’t [think] there was any malice or anything vicious on that. It was just a hard hit."

It's true, there's this funny thing in hockey where players are sometimes bent over while handling the puck, so...that's a thing that happens. For a player looking to deliver a check, it requires awareness that the opponent's head may actually be lower than his own.

Anyway, even Hickey noted that Johansson "isn't that kind of player," so it will be interesting to see what discipline is administered by the league and whether it has a corrective effect on how Johansson handles a rather unfamiliar situation in the future.

TSN shared each player's recollection of the incident:

"I just tried to hit him," said Johansson. "I went in with my shoulder, and you know, I don’t know if he had his head low or not, but I went in with my shoulder. That’s all I saw from my vantage point."

While not happy with the hit, Hickey doesn’t think Johansson is that type of player.

"He’s not a dirty player, but maybe it was a dirty hit," said Hickey. "Like I said, I don’t think he’s got bad intentions. But certainly you’ve got to be a little more careful. That’s something we’re trying to get out of the game."

I've no doubt Johansson was just trying to deliver a shoulder check, though the live view and replay show a guy definitely being overzealous and high (a product of the ratcheting intensity of this physical Metro rivalry, perhaps?). Hitting legally is a true skill that requires a great deal of awareness, timing and courage to do it right.

(Notice that even players who hit a lot tend to Ovechkin let their arms ride up into opponents' heads/faces far too often. Delivering a legal shoulder check can leave the hitter himself vulnerable if he doesn't time it right. That vulnerability often leads to him raising his arms and/or stick to brace himself.)

As Japers' Rink pointed out, Johansson's track record is ridiculously clean -- just 20 games out of 384 in his career in which he's even been called for a minor penalty, with only four that could be interpreted as aggressive.

Oddly enough, his only two penalties for hits have come within the last week - last night's check to the head, and a boarding call against Buffalo last week.

Thankfully Hickey was okay and returned to the game. And who knows, if a talk with the league office moves Johansson to think a little more about the mechanics of hitting, the system might actually be working!