Penguins don't fall into anti-fighting camp

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Penguins winger Georges Laraque did not make a fuss over the latest and perhaps most serious suggestion that fighting be eliminated from the NHL, even though such a move likely would end his career.

"If they do take it out of hockey, I was fortunate enough that I was there for 10 years and at the right time," Laraque said yesterday after the Penguins practiced at Southpointe in preparation for their game today against Atlanta.

That does not mean Laraque -- dubbed by general manager Ray Shero as the toughest player in the NHL when the Penguins acquired him in a trade last month -- agrees with Colin Campbell, the league's senior executive vice president and director of hockey operations.

Campbell, who dishes out discipline, told the Canadian Press this week that the league might finally need to address fighting in light of some injuries from fighting as well as violent acts that have stemmed from flared tempers.

"I think it's time to ask the question," Campbell said. "I think you have to ask the question because of what's happening out there. It's incumbent on me, because of my position, to ask the question."

Asked if he was aware of Campbell's comments, Laraque said, "I didn't know and I really don't care."

Laraque has been involved in one fight in his 10 games with the Penguins.

In general, the idea of banning fighting, which could be done with severe penalties such as suspensions, was not met with support in the Penguins' locker room.

"I think [fighting] is a part of it," leading scorer Sidney Crosby said.

"Sometimes, the game has to police itself. If not, things can get out of hand. You don't like to see guys get hurt like they have, but it's been like that for a long, long time."

Coach Michel Therrien sticks to a widely held belief that if players can't take out their frustrations in a fight and if players know they won't face being engaged by an opponent's enforcer, they will be more bold in raising their sticks and using other dangerous moves.

"I'd rather see two guys get involved physically than take dirty shots," the coach said.

Campbell played in a time when the NHL had a "Slap Shot" aspect, with players sometimes jumped by more than one opponent, and he was a part of it. He accumulated 1,292 penalty minutes in 636 games, including a fair number in four seasons over two stints with the Penguins in the 1970s.

With the more recent instigator penalty, most NHL fights now are between two willing players, and there are fewer brawls. What worries Campbell is that injuries still occur, perhaps because players are bigger and stronger.

"This year, we've had two players carried out on stretchers because of fair, consenting fights that had taken place. ... It scares you," he said.

One of those injured players was Philadelphia's Todd Fedoruk Wednesday. The other was Toronto's Kris Newbury after a Feb. 10 fight with Penguins winger Ronald Petrovicky.

One of Petrovicky's punches appeared to knock Newbury unconscious, and he hit his head as he fell to the ice.

Petrovicky apologized at the time but also pointed out that fighting was part of the game. Yesterday, he elaborated.

"When you go into a fight, you lift up your team, lift up the energy," he said.

"It's been a big part of hockey for a long time over here in North America. I guess since a couple of guys got hurt, it's an issue now. But it's part of the game."

Petrovicky, a native of Slovakia, didn't grow up around a culture of fighting but understands its place on this side of the Atlantic.

"Fighting in Europe is pretty much prohibited," he said. "But, over here, it's been a nature of the game."

Laraque agrees wholeheartedly.

"When it's a goal, the fans of that team stand up," he said. "But, when it's a fight, the fans from both teams are on their feet. Everybody gets excited. There's a reason why there's a tough guy on every team, and he's usually a fan favorite."

Penguins defenseman Brooks Orpik has long been aware of the factions on both sides of the fighting issue. What struck him about the latest public look at it is the source, Campbell.

"I think you tend to pay a little more attention when he says that, especially the way he played," Orpik said.

"I personally think it's something you have to have just to keep guys accountable, but I'm sure it's something that will get a lot more debate in the weeks to come."

Scouting Report

Matchup: Penguins vs. Atlanta Thrashers, 1:08 p.m. today, Mellon Arena.

TV, radio: FSN Pittsburgh, WXDX-FM (105.9).

Probable goaltenders: Marc-Andre Fleury for Penguins. Kari Lehtonen for Thrashers.

Penguins: Have not lost three regulation games in a row since Dec. 1-5. ... C Sidney Crosby has no points in past two games. ... Are 5-2-1 in day games.

Thrashers: Have won eight of past 11 games. ... Are 10-7-2 vs. Atlantic Division, including 2-0-1 vs. Penguins. ... Are 3-1 on road in shootouts.

Hidden stat: Atlanta has allowed at least 30 shots in nine consecutive games.


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Shelly Anderson can be reached at shanderson@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1721.


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