Letang says Hartnell bit him, and Hartnell 'can't say what happened' ... more fuel for the rivalry

October, 8, 2009

The Flyers-Penguins rivalry is one of the best in hockey. And tonight's 5-4 win by Pittsburgh was another dandy. But there's good, hard-nosed, vicious, physical hockey, and then there's just plain idiotic.

If it is indeed true that Scott Hartnell bit Kris Letang's finger with just seconds remaining in Thursday night's game, the Philadelphia Flyers winger should be suspended. I guarantee you the NHL's hockey operations staff was already looking at the scuffle. But unless there's clear video evidence of the action, it might be tough to do anything about it.

The incident was sparked by Flyers captain Mike Richards' colliding with Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury, which took the net off and stopped play with 1.2 seconds left in the game. Letang and Hartnell then got entangled; so did Flyers defenseman Chris Pronger and Penguins forward Chris Kunitz (both later received 10-minute misconducts). Letang and Hartnell scuffled and fell to the ice, but there was no clear shot from the game broadcast to see the bite.

"Our response is, ask Hartnell," Penguins GM Ray Shero told ESPN.com via text message Thursday night. "He knows what happened."

Letang, who raced off the ice after the incident holding his hand, had a similar reaction.

"My answer is going to be ask him. He knows what he did. Go ask Hartnell," Letang was quoted as saying to Penguins beat writer Rob Rossi of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.

"It's a first for me," Letang later added, referring to the alleged bite. "I want to be certain you go ask him."

Of course, there were indeed media waiting for Hartnell in the Flyers' dressing room.

Question of the night: "Did you bite him?"

"A lot of stuff happens on the bottom of the pile," Hartnell was quoted as saying to veteran Philly hockey writer Tim Panaccio of CSNPhilly.com. "He had his hands in my face, doing the face wash, and we were rolling around. I can't say what happened."

Hartnell was asked whether he had ever been accused of biting. "Not ever, really," he said.

I know it's somewhat hypocritical to draw the line as to what is deemed acceptable behavior in a sport that allows fighting, but, believe me, NHL tough guys will tell you biting is not a part of their rules of combat.

And again, we can't be sure Hartnell did it, but it seems strange for Letang to have reacted the way he did.

Just another incident to spice up the hatred between these two teams.

"It sets up the whole season," Letang told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. "We have [five] more games to play against them, and we know they're about doing stupid things like that at the end of the game."

Coyotes going home
The Coyotes played another good road game Thursday night, but fell short in a 2-1 loss in Buffalo. Late in the third period, just before Thomas Vanek's goal won it late for the Sabres, a news release went out from the Coyotes announcing a sellout for Saturday's home opener in Phoenix.

Who would have ever thought? Perhaps it's the reaction from Coyotes fans to Jim Balsillie's being out of the picture? The real test is how many fans show up for the team's remaining home games.

Either way, the 2-1-0 Coyotes have been among the early-season surprises.

One transaction that didn't get a lot of attention was the late addition of Robert Lang. People who cover the Montreal Canadiens will tell you that without a doubt he was their best forward last season before suffered a season-ending injury (he needed surgery to fix a torn Achilles tendon). The 38-year-old signed a one-year deal worth $1 million. Peanuts for a guy with his talent.

Pierre LeBrun

ESPN Senior Writer



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