Was James Neal kneeing Brad Marchand’s head intentional? Was it revenge? The debate continued all night following the dramatic regular season finale between the Pittsburgh Penguins and Boston Bruins. Anytime a player (Neal) sticks his knee out to make contact with another player’s head (Marchand), the incident is going to be controversial to say the least.
3. Neal on Marchand may or may not have been sneaky dirty or accidentally on purpose but that’s for NHL Player Safety to determine.
James Neal looked at Marchand, changed his path, stuck out his knee just enough, never looked back. Gutless. https://t.co/Zj1e4mT1J5
— Bruce Arthur (@bruce_arthur) December 8, 2013
Saturday night wasn’t the first controversial incident between Marchand and Neal. In last season’s Eastern Conference Finals, Marchand hit Neal from behind in front of the Penguins’ bench. Neal was a bit dazed, but surely he hadn’t forgotten about this hit.
After last night’s game, Neal admitted to making contact with Marchand’s head, but acted as if he were unsure of the exact details regarding the hit.
“I was skating by him. I haven’t seen the replay or anything,” said Neal. “I mean, I hit him in the head with my leg, my foot, or my knee or shin area, I don’t know. He’s already going down. I guess I need to try to avoid him. But I need to look at it again.”
After Neal gave his initial recollection of the incident, he was asked whether he stuck out his leg/knee on purpose.
“What do you want me to say that I was trying to hit him? No, I’m going by him and I didn’t get out of the way like I said. I need to be more careful and I guess get my knee out of the way, but I’m not trying to hit him in the head or injure him or anything like that.” -James Neal
The video evidence doesn’t exactly support Neal’s words. His actions appeared to be intentional. Neal’s eyes looked to be at Marchand on the ice before contact took place. Neal seemed to slant his left knee out to ensure head contact when this action could’ve been avoided. He looked to lift his left skate blade off of the ice prior to the blow. His posture also changed. Neal appeared to slightly brace himself for contact prior to knee to head contact.
“Marchand went down as Neal was skating by and he (Neal) didn’t make an attempt to get out of the way on Marchand,” said Bylsma.
The NHL Department of Player Safety will have a phone interview with James Neal on Monday. They must be of the opinion that the incident wasn’t that malicious since there won’t be a face to face meeting with Neal. As Bob McKenzie of TSN reported, Neal will receive no more than a five game suspension since he will only have a phone interview.
NHL announces James Neal will have telephone hearing for kneeing Brad Marchand in head. Any suspension to him will be 5 games or less.
— Bob McKenzie (@TSNBobMcKenzie) December 8, 2013
This won’t be the first time Neal is reprimanded by the league for a questionable hit to an opponent’s head. He was suspended in the 2011-12 playoffs against the Philadelphia Flyers. Neal was given a one game suspension for charging Claude Giroux.
Neal is the only person who knows if his knee to Marchand’s head was done with intent. The video speaks for itself. After realizing the history between these two players, this incident has to make you wonder. Neal is more than likely to be suspended, but what do you think? Did Neal knee Marchand in the head on purpose to get revenge for last year? Or was this a freak accident?