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Devils hope new rule cuts down needless hits

by Mike G. Morreale /
NEWARK, N.J. -- With the implementation of the new rule to help curtail blind-side hits to the head, the NHL is hoping players will display a little more awareness and responsibility when lining up an opposing player.

New Jersey Devils captain Jamie Langenbrunner, third on the team with 92 hits in 72 games, appreciates what the League is trying to do to rectify the issue of hits to the head.

"When any rule is instituted, it will take time and especially this one," Langenbrunner said. "It's not a rarity anymore (to see big hits and injuries), but it definitely doesn't happen every game either. It'll probably be discussed on a day-to-day basis. Hopefully, it'll get rid of the needless hit."

Devils wing David Clarkson, who enjoys the physical aspect of the game and has 78 hits in 38 games this season, feels players will be more cautious on the ice.

"Maybe you'll see guys be more cautious but that's what it's there for -- to stop guys from those blind-side, catching-guys-not-looking type of hits," Clarkson said. "I'm sure it'll be looked over but I think it's something they've wanted to do to make it safe. I think what we've learned too, from watching the replays, that the League will hand out suspensions to send a message. They won't have it anymore."

Clarkson said there was no formal meeting with the coaching staff prior to the Devils' game against the New York Rangers at Prudential Center with regard to the new rule,  under which hits to the head won't necessarily result in a minor or major penalty but will be reviewed for possible supplemental discipline.

"I think it's not any concern with (the coaches) and we don't have an issue with it, but I think it's something that players know individually," he said. "We don't really think about it. It's not something in the back of our minds that we're talking about. We're going to play the same way we've been playing.

"I'm still going to hit a guy if he's got the puck; it's not going to change my type of game," he continued. "I've never hit a guy (blind-side) before anyway, but I'm still going to go through him to get that puck so."

Langenbrunner feels the game has changed following the work stoppage in 2004-05 and that it was inevitable the League would crack down on this type of hit. He doesn't believe it's a hard rule to grasp.

"I think with every rule change there's an effect," Langenbrunner said. "A lot of rules were changed coming out of the lockout that made defensemen more vulnerable to plays in the corner because you can't hold guys up. Guys are coming in faster and in more dangerous areas -- guys are more free-wheeling now. So some things had to be changed a little bit because past year's or a long time ago, you could protect your player by stepping in the (opponent's) way and interfering but now that's a penalty. So I think this could definitely help curb some of that."

Clarkson understands how it would be impossible to penalize or suspend of player over a legitimate "north-south" hit that might include a part of the head.

"If (Zdeno) Chara is coming at me, head-on, and I've got the puck, some part of his upper body is probably going to hit me (in the head)," Clarkson said. "It's a height thing. You can't expect him to get on his knees to finish me. It's a hard thing to say. I don't see any problem with a guy throwing a head-on clean hit, so long as it's not an elbow or a dirty arm that's part of it. That hitting is part of the game."

Langenbrunner said some things are more a matter of common sense.

"I think you should have a pretty good idea," he said. "If a guy can't see you and he's vulnerable, don't hit him in the head. It's pretty simple. Players also have to realize where he's putting himself on the ice too. You can't be reckless and put yourself in those vulnerable spots (to get hit). If you're coming across the middle, you're going to get hit so be ready for that.

"I think anyone who played against Scotty (Stevens) or guys like that, when they went there, there was a risk. So it's something where players have to watch out for themselves a little bit."

Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mike_morreale

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