Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Asham, Neal suspended; Martin out as Pens face elimination

by Bob Herpen
Phanatic Hockey Editor

Facing the prospect of being swept out of the postseason for the first time in more than three decades, the Pittsburgh Penguins will have to stay alive without at least four main members of their lineup.

Last night, following an inexplicably long wait, the National Hockey League suspended Arron Asham four games -- the balance of the best-of-seven set if it should get that far -- and James Neal for one game for their actions during Sunday's 8-4 loss in Game 3.

The former Flyer was given a match penalty for attempt to injure in the first period of that contest, going up high to cross-check Flyers forward Brayden Schenn in the throat, then adding several extra shots while Schenn lay prone on the ice.

"Reacting to his teammate being hit, Asham skates directly toward Schenn from the middle of the ice and intentionally cross-checks him high and with force. He then punches the defenseless player in the back of the head. Asham's stick never actually makes contact with Schenn's face. However, the violent, vengeful nature of the cross check is unacceptable," said NHL discipline czar Brendan Shanahan in his video explanation of the punishment.

"We have taken into consideration that Schenn escaped serious injury as a result. It is also important to note that while he is a physical player, Asham has not been fined or suspended during his 13-season NHL career."

Neal, who had two separate hearings, was suspended for one incident -- that of charging Flyers forward Claude Giroux with 4:42 remaining in the contest. Earlier in the shift, Neal was unpenalized for taking a run at rookie forward Sean Couturier, leaving his feet to deliver a hit to the 19-year-old from the blind side.

"While we are willing to accept Neal's assertion that he jumped to brace himself for an unintended collision, the fact that, 42 seconds later, he launches to prior to making contact with Giroux, is not acceptable," Shanahan continued.

It remains to be seen why Shanahan would accept that assertion, and if he did, why the fact that Neal is a repeat offender didn't have more of an influence on the final decision.

The 24-year-old was given a two-game suspension in November of 2009 after leaving his feet to deliver an illegal check from behind to Columbus Blue Jackets forward Derek Dorsett. Captain Sidney Crosby had this to say about the 40-goal scorer's absence:

"He’s a big part of our offense, but I think we have a lot of depth. That’s something we’ve prided ourselves on all year. I think we’re more than capable of providing offense here in the absence of him for one game."

Also scratched will be Craig Adams, who will serve his automatic one-game suspension for instigating a fight -- the one where he pulled Scott Hartnell's hair -- in the final five minutes of the rout.

Meanwhile, Pens head coach Dan Bylsma ruled out defenseman Paul Martin for tonight's potential series ender. Martin, you'll recall, was on the losing end of a devastating hit by Schenn before Asham took matters into his own hands. According to Bylsma, the injury he suffered is "undisclosed" but it sure looked like one of the upper-body variety.

In addition, defenseman Zbynek Michalek is reported to be a game-time decision.

That's where the so-called Black Aces for either side will come into play. Both the Phantoms and Baby Pens have recalled players from the AHL. Philly recalled nine yesterday from Adirondack because it failed to gain a playoff berth, and Pittsburgh brought up Eric Tangradi and Simon Despres to fill in for Adams and Asham, along with Dustin Jeffrey, Richard Park and Joe Vitale.

The last time the Penguins suffered a four-game sweep came in the 1979 quarterfinals, when the Boston Bruins turned the trick.

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