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Penguins players are not out looking for fights

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By the numbers

The Penguins have become less and less interested in fighting during the past four seasons.

Season Fights NHL rank

2010-11 71 2nd

2011-12 31 20th

2012-13 22 15th*

2013-14 13 19th**

* — Season was 48 games** — Through 31 games

By Josh Yohe
Sunday, Dec. 8, 2013, 10:12 p.m.

Penguins defenseman Brooks Orpik doesn't care about “the code.”

Orpik, through no fault of his own, found himself in a Boston hospital on Saturday because of his beliefs.

The Boston Bruins targeted Orpik early and often following a hit to forward Loui Eriksson in the opening minute, clearly believing that Orpik owed them a fight because of his hit.

Orpik's hit, which saw his right shoulder plant Eriksson in the chest, was deemed legal. Still, the Bruins — notably enforcer Shawn Thornton — challenged Orpik to fisticuffs on numerous occasions, apparently because Orpik chose to aggressively hit one of the Bruins marquee players.

Boston coach Claude Julien said on Sunday night that he “disagrees” with Penguins coach Dan Bylsma's assessment that the hit was legal. No penalty was called on the play.

The Penguins don't believe fighting is always a sign of toughness, nor do they think Orpik should have felt obligated to fight.

“I'm not going to back down to anyone,” said defenseman Deryk Engelland earlier this week. “None of us are.”

His fight against Boston's Milan Lucic on Saturday marked the first time one of the Penguins has dropped his gloves since Nov. 15.

“No one on this team is afraid to fight,” Engelland said. “But we aren't a team that goes around looking for fights.”

Few disdain fighting more than Orpik. He has received only a handful of fighting majors in his career and none in the past five years.

After refusing to fight Thornton earlier in the game, the Boston forward later pulled Orpik down from behind before pummeling him with a series of punches while Orpik was helpless on his back.

Some around hockey, specifically members of the Hockey Night in Canada broadcast, believe the situation would have been defused had Orpik simply dropped the gloves.

Rick Tocchet, who played for both the Penguins and Bruins, said he doesn't believe Orpik deserved what happened. However, he does believe Orpik should fight with more regularity.

“I love Brooks and the way he plays,” Tocchet said. “But, when you play on the edge the way he does, I personally think that you should fight, at least occasionally. I don't think Brooks is a dirty player at all, but when you play that style, you're going to have some borderline hits on occasion. They're impossible to ignore. So I think it would serve him well to fight some of the time.”

Tocchet, who calls himself “new school and old school,” believes fighting defuses dirty hits.

“I truly do,” he said. “Look at what happened last night. You know coming into the game that Boston is sensitive because (defenseman Johnny) Boychuk just got hurt (against Montreal). And you know the Penguins and Bruins don't like each other. So when you hit one of their best players on the first shift, even though the hit was totally clean, you know things could get nasty.”

Things, of course, did get nasty.

Thornton and right wing James Neal could receive heavy suspensions for their respective roles in Saturday's game. Neal kneed Boston's Brad Marchand in the head moments before Thornton attacked Orpik.

“We don't fight much but it's not like we aren't willing,” center Joe Vitale said last week. “You do it when the time is right.”

When is the time right?

It's a question that will rage on in hockey circles.

“When used properly,” Tocchet said, “fighting can be a good thing.”

“But in this case, I don't know. You can't justify what Thornton did. You just can't. It's tough.”

Josh Yohe is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at or via Twitter @JoshYohe_Trib.

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