Saturday Night’s Alright For Fighting

I guess we should have known, when Ron Wilson and Paul MacLean respectively dressed Colton Orr and Zenon Konopka Saturday night, that there would be some fireworks and tension between the Maple Leafs and the Ottawa Senators.

And while there are still a lot of members of the hockey community who appreciate a good scrap—CBC’s intro song for years has been Nickelback’s rip-off of the classic Elton John tune that gave this post its title—it’s left many of us on the other side questioning why these fights happen.

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This Sens/Leafs game, which ended up with a 6-5 shootout had the majority of the scoring coming in a period where there wasn’t even a scrap to give an adrenalin jolt to the game. There were two fights in this game, so it’s probably well and good to analyze what exactly they accomplished in the grand scheme of the hockey game.

First, fight #1, 5:42 into the first period:

Three seconds in Konopka’s tenure as an Ottawa Senator, and he locks hands with Mike Brown, dressed opposite him. You can tell that here, Konopka is looking to make an impression on his new team, as he was a healthy scratch in the first game the Sens played. Starting in the offensive zone, there may have actually been a chance to get open with Colton Orr having to start in the centre position and Erik Condra from a good passing position just near the goal-line. Instead, he goes right after Brown.

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As for the Leafs, while MacLean is protecting his fourth line shift, Wilson puts out his fourth line in the defensive zone against a reliable face-off man, rather than Mikael Grabovski, whose line was rested and could push the play north. The opposite happens and Brown makes the choice to hem his team in their own zone.

Let’s chart out exactly what happened before and after the fight took place:

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  OTT     TOR    
  Goals Shots on Goal Shots < 30 feet Goals Shots on Goal Shots < 30 feet
5 mins before fight 0 2 1 0 0 0
5 mins after fight 0 4 2 0 1 1

From the chart, we can see that maybe Ron Wilson thought that he needed to wake his guys up. That wasn’t the case. Ottawa kept control of the flow of play both before and after the fight, and drew a penalty on Joffrey Lupul in the process (both teams got a shot on that ensuing powerplay).

I guess you could make the argument that the game picked up a slight pace after the fight, but generally, it didn’t swing momentum at all in the Leafs favour, despite Brown winning the fight according to regulars.

Secondly, fight #2, 6:33 into the second period: 

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Chris Neil, frustrated at the end of a short shift, appears to take on Luke Schenn by virtue of him not being Colton Orr. It’s not really in me to criticize Ottawa Senators for their choice in sparring partners (and I also thought Neil played a good hockey game against Minnesota Tuesday night)  but I’m going to point out that Neil took a real stupid four minute penalty here. He got two for roughing, two for instigating, five for fighting and a ten minute misconduct. Any momentum he could have created from this fight would have been sapped as the Leafs spent some time on the powerplay due to his reckless decision-making.

This fight, ironically, comes at the tail-end of an Ottawa powerplay. The score was 2-0 for Toronto at the time and the game well-within reach for Neil and his Senators.

So, what happened before and after the fight?

  OTT     TOR    
  Goals Shots on Goal Shots < 30 feet Goals Shots on Goal Shots < 30 feet
5 mins before fight 0 2 0 0 1 0
5 mins after fight 0 1 0 1 5 4

Reading too much into what happened before and after this fight is a little out of importance, because Toronto had a pretty good powerplay going right after the fact and capitalized once on four good chances. I guess there’s the argument that Luke Schenn defending himself well and pumped his team up, but the overwhelming majority of voters gave the decision to Chris Neil, because, well, he was fighting Luke Schenn.

What are the two constants between the fights in this game?

1 – The team that did the best after each fight was the team that had the bulk of their time on the powerplay.

2 – The loser of each fight’s team did better in the five minutes while the players were serving their penalty.

So, what we already knew. In one case, the fight didn’t correlate to the penalty being drawn, but in the second case, the Leafs got a man advantage as direct result of the fight and capitalized on it. There is not enough data to make a full conclusion based on what happens after each fight, but in this case, it’s pretty clear that each fight in this game was inconsequential to the flow of momentum, and that any shots or chances that resulted after the fact game due to powerplays, not because a player was inspired after seeing a guy on his team chuck knuckles.

(Shot and scoring data picked up from’s Play-By-Play)

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