Tortorella raises debate over NHL line brawling

Tortorella raises debate over NHL line brawling
January 20, 2014, 5:00 pm
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(Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Sports)

Adam Oates has some strong opinions about what transpired in Vancouver late Saturday night in a heated game between the Canucks and Calgary Flames.

That doesn’t necessarily mean he would like to share them with anyone, but the questions are worth asking because, let’s face it, his team could be in a similar predicament some day.

Prior to Saturday night’s game, Calgary coach Bob Hartley submitted an opening lineup that included enforcers Kevin Westgarth and Brian McGrattan, leaving Tortorella with a decision to make.

Should he start the offensively gifted but mild-mannered Sedin twins? Or should he fight fire with fire.

To no one’s surprise, Tortorella sent the toughest guys on his team out for the opening faceoff and the results were predictable – a five-fight line brawl that resulted in eight players being ejected.

Tortorella tossed even more gasoline on the fire at the end of the opening period when he tried confronting the Canucks as they came off the ice and headed to the visiting dressing room, an act that may draw a suspension from the NHL

All of which brings us to this exchange Sunday between Oates and members of the media following the Caps’ morning skate at Madison Square Garden.

[RELATED: Can Holtby return to starting in goal for Capitals?]

Question: Did you catch the Vancouver-Calgary game?

Adam Oates: I did. Tough to miss it.

Q: Do you have any particular thoughts about what transpired?

AO: I have a lot of thoughts about it.

Q: Could you share those?

AO: I probably shouldn’t.

Q: When that happens, do you feel the need to match that?

AO: It’s hard to say what you’re going to do at the time until it happens is probably the best way to answer that.

Q: How long does a coach have to put in his lineup once the visiting coach puts in his?

AO: You’ve got a couple minutes.

Q: Can it be a teaching tool for players or coaches?

AO: Most guys have been through that before growing up. It happens at all levels.

It was an artful display of verbal dodge ball, but what if something similar happened in a game at Verizon Center? What if the Flyers or Rangers sent out their biggest bruisers for an opening faceoff?

Would Oates counter with Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom and Marcus Johansson? Or would he opt for Aaron Volpatti, Tom Wilson and John Erskine?

"It's easy for people to say put the Sedins out there and it's deflated," Tortorella said after the game. "I can't put our players at risk that way. With the lineup he had, I am not going to put those type of players at risk, and that's what ensues. I'm not proud of it. I have apologized to every one of the players involved in it. I don't feel great about it at all."

Given the chance to do it all again, it’s a safe bet Tortorella would change nothing and live with the consequences.

But the question bears asking. What would the Caps do in a similar situation? And if you were calling the shots, who would you pencil in as your starting five?