It seems the Pittsburgh Penguins irritated Washington Capitals fans in more ways than one during their 3-2 OT win in the first meeting of the season between the two divisional rivals.

Not only was it a game the Caps could have won. By the time OT rolled around it was a game the Caps probably should have won. And in the extra frame there’s no question in my mind who the better team was. Washington was excitingly relentless and only Marc-Andre Fleury kept them from two points.

But there was one earlier incident that had Captials fans seething long before the game was decided. The culprit this time was one Evgeni Malkin.

With 3.3 seconds left in the second period Malkin was coming off a recent goal and looking for more. As he was driving through the slot, the puck ended up against the net beside Washington goalie Braden Holtby, who was down on his knees. Holtby reached to cover up and Malkin tried to get his stick on the puck at the same time, allegedly slashing down on and driving through Holtby.

Capitals forward Justin Williams immediately responded with the horse collar tackle, taking Malkin suddenly and heavily down toward the boards. Here’s how it all looked live:

Video: NHL on NBC

Some Washington fans have no doubt at all: Malkin is one of the league’s dirtiest players and is protected only because he plays on a team with Sidney Crosby. A few also have no doubt about what happened on this play: Malkin intentionally drove his knee directly into the skull of Braden Holtby and should be banned from hockey.

Now here’s another angle.

From here it definitely looks like Malkin’s knee makes solid head contact. What this angle also shows is the puck was still live as Malkin made his cut at it with his stick. He really doesn’t slash Holtby at all.

One other potential tell from this shot is its perhaps close to what Williams saw. He sees a stick come down hard near his goalie. He possibly sees Holtby’s head snap back. Within a second Malkin is all but jumping into his arms. Hard to blame him at this point for doing something. I don’t think Williams was thinking about how close he was to the boards and trying to pile drive him. I don’t think he thought about how he was going to tackle him either, ie the horse collar. Like I said, I think he was just thinking “do something”. Having said that, it means I don’t think he was thinking the opposite either. I don’t think he was thinking about NOT horse collar tackling. He wasn’t thinking at all about the consequences of what he did. If Malkin had gotten seriously hurt with a neck injury is it a suspension? If your answer is yes, then it should probably be a suspension anyway.

Now. One final angle on Malkin’s attempt at goal, shall we say:

I think this shot clearly and conclusively shows no knee contact was made. Malkin actually does the opposite and goes out of his way to spin and hold his leg back, intentionally avoiding Holtby’s head. The shaft of Malkin’s stick is what inadvertently makes Holtby react with the understandable head snap.

In truth, I don’t think either of them did anything malicious. I know it would be too much to ask of either of these fan bases to look at the other objectively and it would take away the fun anyway. But unfortunately it leads to these occasional misguided reasons for hating each other when there’s already so many legitimate ones.

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