NHL suspends Neal, Asham, Backstrom

The Globe and Mail

Pittsburgh Penguins' James Neal stretches during NHL hockey practice in Pittsburgh, Tuesday, April 17, 2012. The Penguins face the Philadelphia Flyers in Game 4 of a first round Stanley Cup playoffs series in Philadelphia on Wednesday. The Flyers lead the best-of-seven games series 3-0. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar) (Gene J. Puskar/AP)

A weekend of head shots gave way to a weekday of disciplinary hearings Tuesday for the NHL, as league vice-president Brendan Shanahan attempted to restore some order to the postseason.

One week into the 2012 playoffs, Shanahan has been a busy man, with Tuesday’s four hearings resulting in four suspensions – marking a new high for his short tenure in the job.

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The bans handed down were three games in the press box for Chicago Blackhawks rookie Andrew Shaw, one game for Washington Capitals centre Nicklas Backstrom, one game for Pittsburgh Penguins forward James Neal and four games for teammate Arron Asham.

Neal was a particularly special case Tuesday, in that he had two separate phone hearings for different hits on two of the Philadelphia Flyers’ young stars, Claude Giroux and Sean Couturier, late in last Sunday’s Game 3.

Asham was dealt the harshest punishment for a cross-check to the face of Brayden Schenn that drew a match penalty (and comparisons to Backstrom’s similar infraction a night later against the Bruins).

Shaw’s suspension highlighted just how slow the NHL’s wheels of justice are grinding away, as his hit to the head of Phoenix Coyotes netminder Mike Smith last Saturday didn’t wind up with a ruling until Shanahan tweeted out a video explanation at 2:40 p.m. (EDT) on Tuesday.

“As is specifically defined by NHL rules, a goalkeeper is not fair game just because he is outside the goal crease area,” Shanahan said in explaining the decision.

That left the Blackhawks only a few hours to rejig their roster for that night’s game – something that drew criticism from some of Shaw’s teammates.

“There should be some kind of protocol [or]a deadline,” Jamal Mayers told CSN Chicago. “A guy has got to prepare for a game and shouldn’t have to worry about that. The decision should have been made [Monday]night.”

The Penguins will have an even tougher time on that front with three forwards out with suspensions for Wednesday’s Game 4.

Fourth-liner Craig Adams was already guaranteed to miss it after he was suspended one game for taking an instigator penalty late in Game 3, and he'll now be joined by Neal and Asham.

The Shaw ruling, meanwhile, may be one indication the league is going to begin handing down stiffer suspensions: His ban is the longest of the season for a hit on a goaltender.

For some, that kind of crack down would be long overdue.

“It was a blatant hit to the head with no intent to miss the goalie,” Coyotes head coach Dave Tippett said.

“It’s the exact hit they’re trying to take out of the game.”