When it comes to Zac Rinaldo’s actions against Pittsburgh on Tuesday, what did you expect? Were you anticipating his first career hat trick? Although both of those questions are rhetorical, they shed light on a theme that appears to be getting overlooked. While the 24-year-old bruiser is taking his lumps throughout the media, has anyone stopped to ask who’s really to blame for Zac Rinaldo?
Gooning It Up
Both the Flyers and Penguins entered Tuesday’s tilt in Philadelphia a bit shorthanded. On the offensive side, the Pens were without Patric Hornqvist, Blake Comeau, Pascal Dupuis, and Marcel Goc; while the Flyers were missing second line center Scott Laughton. But instead of filling in the holes with talent, it’s what the two teams did that set the stage for Tuesday’s events.
Pittsburgh made an intriguing roster move on Wednesday morning, prior to its Rivalry Night matchup against Philadelphia — Bobby Farnham, the penalty minutes leader with AHL Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, has been recalled and appears ready to suit up this evening. — Mike Halford, Pro Hockey Talk
Along with Zach Sill, that’s quite an interesting personnel decision. Especially with Farnham’s 117 penalty minutes in 27 games this season with the Scranton-Wilkes Barre Penguins. Then again, he does have four points to go with all of that time in the sin bin.
The Flyers, on the other hand, opted to dress Zac Rinaldo in Laughton’s absence. And although Rinaldo’s 36 games in the NHL this season alone doesn’t make his spot in the lineup as much of a surprise, it doesn’t change the fact that there were clearly better options.
Truth be told, both teams had other viable alternatives. Philly could have plucked a better all-around hockey player to step in for Laughton in Jason Akeson, Blair Jones, or even Ryan White. But while this type of questionable management has been an ongoing saga in Philadelphia, the Pens’ countermove was a calculated one.
They’re obviously not bringing Farnham in for his scoring ability, though, so if he does in fact get inserted into the lineup, his role will be pretty well defined. He knows it well, too.
Farnham has three fighting majors in his 10 games with the big club this season and seven more in the AHL according to hockeyfights.com. He has already racked up 117 penalty minutes in 27 games with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton in the AHL this year as well. — Chris Peters, CBS Sports
Instead of calling upon Bryan Rust, who’s 14 NHL games this season exceeded Farnham’s by four, the Penguins tapped their AHL fighting extraordinaire. And even though the 26-year-old rookie was used sparingly – 5:11 of time on ice – he was able to add a pair of hits to the box score, complimented with a five minute fighting major.
Note: Bryan Rust was unavailable for a call-up due to injury.
That doesn’t change the fact that Pittsburgh had 10 other forwards to pick from Scranton’s Wednesday lineup with more points than Farnham’s.
It looks like the Penguins knew exactly what to expect in their second meeting with the Flyers this season, and were willing to take part by measuring up the matchup.
This in no way, excuses Rinaldo’s dirty hit on Pittsburgh defenseman Kris Letang. Rinaldo’s boarding penalty on the Penguins’ top blue liner was not only a black eye on the organization, it placed his team in a precarious situation. After receiving a deserving game misconduct, Rinaldo hit the showers, leaving his teammates to kill off a five minute power play.
The fourth-year Flyer didn’t help his cause after the game by taking credit for the aftermath of his dangerous actions.
“Yeah, I changed the whole game,” said Rinaldo. “Who knows what the game would have been like if I didn’t do what I did.”
Whether Rinaldo was joking or not, that type of response lacks intelligence in every fathomable way. Given his history, which includes two previous suspensions, perhaps a little remorse would seem a tad more advantageous, even if it has to be manufactured.
The harsh truth is that Rinaldo shouldn’t have been in the lineup to begin with. In 201 NHL games, the 5-11, 169-pound forward boasts a whopping 20 points. Two of those 20 points have come in 36 games this season. But when it comes to leaving his team shorthanded, he hasn’t disappointed.
I'm not yet an expert in scary hockey math, but here's a fun one: In his career, Rinaldo has been disciplined by the NHL once every 53 games
— Sarah Baicker (@sbbaicker) January 21, 2015
With 17 penalty minutes credited to his name on Tuesday, Rinaldo now has 545 PIM in 201 games. That’s an egregious disparity in scoring. It’s one that’s unexplainable when it comes to justifying his insertion into the lineup, not to mention his recent two-year, $1.5 million contract extension back in September.
At the time of his ejection in the first period, Rinaldo had already logged 3:53 of ice time. His opening period deployment had him on pace to see double digits in minutes for the fourth time in his last six games. And since he’s given no indication that he’s transformed his game, who’s really to blame for Zac Rinaldo?
Game of Emotion
The rivalry between the Flyers and Penguins is unquestionably hockey’s best. It’s really not debatable. The pure hatred these two franchises share for each other simply cannot be fabricated. It’s what generates the attention they’ve garnered dating back to 1967.
“It’s hard to play this way for 80 games,” said Flyers forward Jakub Voracek, who’s 17 penalty minutes on Tuesday matched Rinaldo’s. “It was a very emotional game, a battle for 64 minutes. Obviously, if that’s the way we gotta win games, we gotta play like that every day.
“I’m sure it’s emotional for the Penguins, as well. They don’t fight or hit as much. Sometimes you have to find different ways to win games. I don’t know what it’s against the Penguins every time, but we won the game which is good.”
As we’ve seen, hockey and “hate” go together like gasoline and a box of matches. The Flyers and Penguins combined for 93 penalty minutes on Tuesday thanks to the chippy style that resulted in four fights, as well as several illegal hits.
“There was a lot of emotion out there. . . . It’s a game like that we needed,” said Flyers captain Claude Giroux, who potted the overtime game-winner. “We got a little dirty, played together, and really fought for each other.”
Come again? Did the face of the Flyers franchise just admit to playing dirty?
“We were actually talking maybe we need to do something like that,” said defenseman Luke Schenn, who came up an assist shy of a Gordie Howe hat trick. “That kind of helped us last year turn things around when Ray Emery started something against Washington.”
There’s a reason the term “agitator” is prominent in hockey. And whether you’re for eradicating fighting in the NHL all together or not, situational fisticuffs have, and do, have an effect on momentum.
For all the talk about Flyers fighting — Pens had 21 majors entering the game, 1 susp.. Flyers had 17 maj, 0 susp.
— Ryan Bright (@philabright) January 21, 2015
“It’s pretty cool to see that, one of the leading scorers in the league,” said Wayne Simmonds of Jakub Voracek’s duel with Rob Scuderi. “He gets pretty angry. He’s throwing uppercuts from hell. It was pretty impressive.”
Those interested in statistics and analytics alone scoff at the thought of a big hit, or a fight lifting the morale of the team on the winning end of such actions. And while they do so with validity on most occasions, it cannot be argued that emotion is a big part of this rough sport.
The Flyers were outshot 13-0 in the first 11:55 Tuesday night. They registered just three shots the entire first period. Somehow, they caught up to and finally surpassed the Penguins in shots midway through the third period. Another game, another slow start. — Sarah Baicker, CSN Philly
Sure, you could point out Luke Schenn’s goal on Philly’s second shot of the night as the microcosm of the current rivalry. But as the game wore on, and the penalty box attendant began to wear out the hinges on the door, the Flyers not only hung in with one of the Eastern Conference’s best teams, they ended up outshooting them.
There is plenty of evidence, however, to lobby for tightening up the rules, if not scrapping the fight all together. With a heightened knowledge on the effects of concussions, fighting isn’t exactly a precautionary activity that advances protection to players who are afforded that respect in other areas of the game, such as but not limited to, boarding.
It’s a shame the actions of Zac Rinaldo took away from the storyline of Philadelphia’s sixth straight victory over Pittsburgh. It’s also unfortunate that it’ll take the adverse injury of Kris Letang to get Rinaldo out of the lineup.
Good luck finding anyone defending Rinaldo right about now. Especially in Philadelphia. But if there’s anyone who deserves to stand on a soap box, it certainly isn’t the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Andy is a contributor for The Hockey Writers, covering the Philadelphia Flyers. He holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Communications from Walsh University. He enjoys spending time with his family, golfing, and reading. He is married with a daughter. You can follow Andy on Twitter @ADudones.