Pittsburgh Penguins forward Evgeni Malkin has been suspended for four games for a “retaliatory and aggressive” cross-check to the face of Nashville Predators defenseman Mark Borowiecki.  The illegal stickwork came after the horn ended the second period of Sunday’s game in Pittsburgh.


Malkin was given a double-minor penalty for high-sticking on the play from referees Brian Pochmara and Dan O’Rourke.  There was no penalty for Malkin’s initial slash, though Borowiecki was given a minor penalty for slashing. Borowiecki, clearly injured on the play, did not return to the game.

Retired NHL referee and current NHL on TNT rules analyst Don Koharski joined the broadcast to discuss the cross-check.

“This is malicious, this is a cross-check to the guys face,” said Koharski. “The double-minor — they obviously didn’t have a real good look at it and I don’t know what their decision came to a double-minor for, but that’s a pretty blatant cross-check to the face.”

While the NHL has instituted replays for major and match penalties, along with high-sticking double-minors, the ability to review depends on the call on the ice. Since this was called a double-minor for high sticking, the review could only confirm that 4:00 penalty or cancel it, if the high stick was the result of a teammate or the player’s own stick. The on-ice officials did not have the option to review the play and change the call to a match penalty for high-sticking or a major or match cross-checking.  In both cases, ‘attempting to or deliberately injuring an opponent’ would be sufficient criteria for a match penalty to be called, which would have resulted in a five-minute power play and Malkin’s ejection from the game.

“Obviously, we don’t want our best players in the penalty box, but these guys are competitive guys. They push back. We’d prefer they be on the ice,” said Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan about Malkin’s infraction. “But one of the things we love about Geno is how competitive he is. So when you get an emotional game like the one today, those things happen.”

From the NHL’s Department of Player Safety:

Penguins forward Evgeni Malkin was penalized for striking Predators defenseman Mark Borowiecki in the face with his stick, forcing him to leave the game. After battling throughout their shift on the ice, Borowiecki briefly engages and restrains Malkin. Upon disengaging, Borowiecki swipes at Malkin’s back with his glove. In response, Malkin first delivers a forceful two-handed slash to Borowiecki, knocking his stick to the ice,  then […] pulls his stick back again, raises it to head height, and strikes Borowiecki directly in the face. This is cross-checking.

It is important to note that this is not a case where Malkin raises his stick defensively or reflexively to protect himself. We find Malkin’s cross check to be retaliatory and aggressive.

While we heard Malkin’s assertion that Borowiecki initiated the scrum by restraining him and confronting him, neither action merited Malkin’s response. Players are not excused from violating league rules because of the actions of their opponents. There is simply no justification for a player to forcefully and intentionally cross-check another player in this manner.

This is Malkin’s second suspension. In 2019, he received a match penalty and a one-game suspension for swinging a stick at Philadelphia Flyers forward Michael Raffl.  He’s also been fined three times, the most recent two for stick infractions:  In 2019, $5,000 for high-sticking and $2,500 for spearing in 2018.

While Malkin is not a repeat offender under the CBA for terms of lost salary calculation, the league has considered his entire disciplinary history when determining the length of his suspension.

Malkin forfeits $190,000 in salary as a result of the ban. He’ll miss two games each against the New York Islanders and Boston Bruins, and will be eligible to return when the Penguins visit the Detroit Red Wings on April 23.