New York Rangers forward Brendan Lemieux is awaiting a hearing with the NHL Department of Player Safety for his hit on Colorado Avalanche forward Joonas Donskoi.
Lemieux was given a two-minute minor for interference by referees Brad Meier and Justin St. Pierre. The hit came with 2:52 remaining in the third period with the Rangers trailing 2-1. Donskoi was helped off the ice; he did not return to the game.
“It looks to me like [Lemieux] gets him in the head. He’s an unsuspecting guy,” said Avs head coach Jared Bednar. “Dangerous, dangerous hit.”
Though the NHL removed specific language around ‘blindside hits’ from the rule book in 2011, hits to the head are still very much illegal.
Rule 48 covers illegal hits to the head:
48.1 Illegal Check to the Head – A hit resulting in contact with an opponent’s head where the head was the main point of contact and such contact to the head was avoidable is not permitted. In determining whether contact with an opponent’s head was avoidable, the circumstances of the hit including the following shall be considered:
(i) Whether the player attempted to hit squarely through the opponent’s body and the head was not “picked” as a result of poor timing, poor angle of approach, or unnecessary extension of the body upward or outward.
(ii) Whether the opponent put himself in a vulnerable position by assuming a posture that made head contact on an otherwise full body check unavoidable.
(iii) Whether the opponent materially changed the position of his body or head immediately prior to or simultaneously with the hit in a way that significantly contributed to the head contact.
Referees have the option of calling a minor penalty or a match penalty for an illegal check to the head, the latter if the player attempted to or deliberately injured his opponent.
In this case, though, Lemieux’s penalty was for interference. Donskoi clearly was not in possession of the puck, having fired a shot on goal moments earlier. That’s covered under 56.2:
A minor penalty shall be imposed on a player who interferes with or impedes the progress of an opponent who is not in possession of the puck.
Officials have the option of increasing the interference penalty to a major based on the “degree of violence” of the hit.
New York killed off the penalty and tied the game with 13.1 seconds remaining, only to fall in overtime on a Cale Makar blast that was tipped in by J.T. Compher.
Lemieux has previously been suspended, sitting for two games in 2018 for an illegal check to the head of Vincent Trocheck. He was fined earlier this season, picking up a $2,000 tab from Player Safety for elbowing.
His hearing is scheduled for Friday.