Scott Hartnell: Onus on Flyers to protect themselves against headshots

As a ripe 18-year-old in his first NHL season, Scott Hartnell laid motionless on the ice in Raleigh, N.C.

It was Nov. 26, 2000, and one of the Carolina Hurricanes had hit Hartnell so hard that he needed the help of a stretcher to get off the ice. He would miss the next six games.

“I think it was right around Christmas and I didn’t know what month it was right off the bat,” Hartnell said. “So it is a little scary and you just have to take care of yourself.”

The next season, it happened again. Another hit. Another stretcher. Another concussion.

Unfortunately, this sight is becoming more and more common in the NHL, and wildly inconsistent penalties so far this postseason aren’t helping.

Claude Giroux and Sean Couturier survived hits in Game 3 from Pittsburgh’s James Neal in which the Penguins All-Star left his feet to target the heads of both players. Neal’s punishment was a one-game suspension handed down by NHL police chief Brendan Shanahan. In the same game, Flyers rookie Brayden Schenn was hit in the face by Arron Asham and then punched in the back of the head while lying on the ice. Asham got four games.

New to his position this season, Shanahan has been all over the map with his rulings. It seems to go back to what many believe was a mistake for not punishing Nashville All-Star defenseman Shea Weber after he slammed Henrik Zetterberg’s head into the glass in a playoff game against Detroit.

The Flyers, however, seemed OK with his rulings on the Penguins’ Game 3 conduct. Maybe that’s because Pittsburgh was without Neal, its leading goal-scorer in the playoffs through Game 3.

“When you look at the rulebook, he did everything to get at least one game,” Couturier said. “If the first one wasn’t on purpose, the other one must have been on purpose.”

Shanahan and the NHL have been getting flak for their discipline across the league, but some players say it needs to come back to them.

“You can’t think the Pittsburgh Penguins are gonna take it easy on me if I have my head down coming across the middle,” Hartnell said. “The onus is on the player to look after himself No. 1, obviously. Protect yourself. Get your hands up to protect your head, things like that. There’s certain circumstances with late hits where blindside hits you can’t do anything about. You just have to be aware.”