Pittsburgh head coach Dan Bylsma believes the NHL is sending "a pretty strong message" with their decision to suspend Shawn Thornton for 15 games without pay after what he did to Penguins defenseman Brooks Orpik in their game on Dec. 7.
"The league made a ruling on James Neal on a play we want out of the game and I think the same thing about Shawn Thornton," Bylsma said. "I think he's a pretty honest hockey player who made a mistake and (the NHL) made a ruling I think says volumes about getting that kind of play out of the game."
Orpik was in the middle of a scrum of players when Thornton grabbed him from behind and pulled him to the ice. Thornton then delivered two punches to Orpik's head.
Orpik lay motionless on the ice and was attended to by athletic trainers and doctors. After a few minutes he was placed on a stretcher and taken to Massachusetts General Hospital, where he was alert and conscious. He rejoined the team and traveled back to Pittsburgh following the game. Orpik was placed on injured reserve Monday morning.
When asked for an update on Orpik, Bylsma said while the defenseman “skated (Friday) very lightly on his own with no other teammates,” he stressed that it was strictly just to be active.
“It wasn't because he lacked symptoms or because he's progressing down the road. It was just light exercise and it doesn't mean he's symptom free at this point in time.”
On Monday, Neal was suspended for five games without pay for kneeing Boston’s forward Brad Marchand in the game.
“I respect the NHL’s decision,” Neal said. “On my part it wasn’t the smartest decision I’ve ever made looking back on it. I’m sorry and I’m glad (Marchand is) OK. Going forward I need to learn from it. It’s something I can’t do. I know that. I respect what the NHL’s done. I have to put it behind me and move forward.”
Neal served the first game of his suspension Monday when the Penguins defeated the Columbus Blue Jackets, 2-1. He is eligible to return to the lineup Thursday, Dec. 19 vs. Minnesota.