John Erskine had just knocked Wayne Simmonds out of Friday night’s game with a right elbow to his head when Philadelphia Flyers coach Peter Laviolette put agitator extraordinaire Zac Rinaldo on the ice for the next faceoff.
Washington Capitals forward Matt Hendricks lined up alongside Rinaldo and expected a fight. Not surprising, even if Laviolette said only: “Zac always brings a lot of energy to the lineup. He was just trying to get his team going.”
But what happened wasn’t just a fight. Hendricks and Rinaldo were both tossed with game misconducts for fighting before the puck was dropped. Linesman Steve Barton might have heard them talking, but he definitely pump-faked dropping the puck.
Coach Adam Oates said Hendricks and Rinaldo were “tricked.”
“There was some tomfoolery in that one, without a doubt,” Hendricks said. “We had all the expectations that the puck was dropped.”
Rinaldo asked Hendricks to fight, and the 31-year-old agreed.
“It wasn’t really the best time for me to fight for our team, I thought we had the momentum going,” Hendricks said. “[But] I felt maybe it was a good time just to nip it in the bud right away and get it over with so we could get back to playing hockey because I knew they would start running around and maybe cheap shot some of our guys.”
Erskine was not called for a penalty on the elbow to Simmonds’ head, and the Flyers forward did not return because of the head injury. Laviolette said the elbow “looked dirty” as soon as it happened.
Rinaldo handed Hendricks a bit of a beating, fighting angry. But that they were thrown out of the game didn’t seem above board.
“They said they fought before the puck dropped, but when you watch the replay, I think they got tricked in a sense because the two centermen went like there was a draw,” Oates said. “It was like a false start and he was kicking one of them out. But I think they reacted to the two centermen moving.”
That’s exactly what Hendricks saw.
“By the way it looked he dropped the puck,” he said. “The ref has his back to us, the linesman, so to us it looked like he dropped the puck. His arms clearly moved, both centermen engaged in the circle and I guess he didn’t drop it.”
Hendricks didn’t know about the pump-fake until assistant coach Tim Hunter told him.
The rule calling for ejections when players fight before the whistle is designed to stop staged fights.