Last night, Detroit lost to Dallas 4-2 at home.
At the 6:57 mark of the 2nd period, Stephen Johns laid a big hit on Dominic Turgeon along the boards. A big, clean hit.
Luke Witkowski took exception, hurdling a player to get to Johns. He immediately dropped the gloves when he got to him and engaged in a fight. I’m not saying for a second that Witkowski sucker punched Johns like Rinaldo did recently, it’s not even close to that, but it’s a clear case of someone instigating a fight.
Watch for yourself: (It should start at 1:10, which is the best angle highlight)
In Witkowski’s post game comments, he said that it was a clean hit, and that he went over and asked “Do you want to go.” I’m not sure when he would have had time to ask that, perhaps he meant it metaphorically.
As JJ pointed out last night in the recap, this is a clear instigator penalty. From Rule 56 in the NHL Rulebook:
An instigator of an altercation shall be a player who by his actions or demeanor demonstrates any/some of the following criteria: distance traveled; gloves off first; first punch thrown; menacing attitude or posture; verbal instigation or threats; conduct in retaliation to a prior game (or season) incident; obvious retribution for a previous incident in the game or season.
Witkowski was given an extra penalty for roughing instead of the instigator penalty, which would have been accompanied by a ten minute misconduct.
In his post-game comments, Witkowski said something else, something that may get him fined by the NHL. At the 29 second mark, Witkowski says: “One of those refs has got it out for me, I think. He was in the minors with me too” Given the conversation just prior, it appears that Witkowski is talking about the play detailed above.
Witkowski was also called for a two minute penalty for elbowing against Martin Hanzal. The video is shown around the 29 second mark as well.
Witkowski has more room to complain about the elbowing penalty, since he clearly didn’t elbow him. However, you can easily see how it was called. Witkowski doesn’t have much of a chance to change his trajectory once Hanzal goes to his knees, but his lower body does move into Hanzal at contact.
He says in his comments that he straightened up, which you can see him do just after contact, so it could have been that he was coming in to make a hit, then realized Hanzal was down and straightened up, but it was a fraction of a second too late. Remember that this replay is in slow motion. I’ve watched this ten times, and I think this is actually the case because the way Witkowski’s body moves just after contact is not consistent with someone trying to throw a hit, but with someone trying to avoid one.
In either case, the way Hanzal’s head moves after contact (which is actually because Witkowski made contact using his lower body) along with the positioning of Witkowski’s upper body makes it look like an elbow from most angles.
At the end of the day, regardless of whether or not one thinks Luke Witkowski deserved the penalties he received, saying that a referee is out to get him seems like crossed line that could easily lead to a fine from the league.
Prashanth has done some research to determine which of the two officials Witkowski was referring to:
In the presser, Witkowski mentioned that one ref had it out for him dating back to minors— Prashanth Iyer (@iyer_prashanth) January 17, 2018
Looking back, there were 2 gms in 13-14 where Jon McIsaac was lone ref
Witkowski received a 10-min unsportsmanlike conduct in one game and 14 PIM (1 10-min misconduct) in the other