Rangers captain addresses elbowing penalty that led to fine

SUNRISE, Fla. – Jacob Trouba finds himself at the center of the NHL conversation yet again.

The New York Rangers captain has become a polarizing figure for his rugged play and crunching checks. Some laud him as one of the league’s best open-ice hitters, while others − mostly from opposing fan bases − adjudge him to be a dirty head-hunter.

Trouba has been fairly accountable over the years when he believes he’s pushed too far over the line, but the 30-year-old defenseman wasn’t quite as remorseful for Sunday’s elbow on Evan Rodrigues in New York’s 5-4 overtime win over the Florida Panthers in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference.

‘He kind of went to the middle,’ Trouba said following Monday’s optional practice at Amerant Bank Arena. ‘It all happens pretty fast. It’s not something you’re thinking about 1,000 times over and over again. It just happens fast. It’s hockey. I don’t have a great explanation for it.’

The NHL’s Department of Player Safety deemed the play worthy of a $5,000 fine, the maximum allowable under the CBA, which it handed down Monday afternoon.

“Take the hat, pass it around,’” Panthers coach Paul Maurice quipped to reporters. “Poor lad. Poor Jake. He won’t be able to eat.”

The reality is that many of Trouba’s oft-criticized hits are clean − hard, yes, but executed within the rules of the game while using proper technique. Sunday’s incident rose to a different level because, rather than keeping his elbow tucked, Trouba clearly extended it in an attempt to get a piece of Rodrigues as the Florida forward tried to avoid the contact.

Replays from various angles show that Trouba didn’t make direct contact with Rodrigues’ head, which is likely what prevented the minor penalty from elevating to a five-minute major.

‘Any time they review it, you don’t really know what’s going to happen,’ Trouba said. ‘I didn’t think it was anything that crazy.’

Asked if he felt that Rodrigues — who threw his head back just after contact was made and then remained down on the ice — or any other Panthers have embellished at points in a series that has featured 13 penalties against the Rangers through three games, Trouba simply said, ‘No comment.’

‘We have to play physical, but we definitely don’t want to be taking six penalties,’ said Trouba, referring to the amount of calls against New York in Game 3. ‘They’ve got a good power play. Discipline is definitely is something we’re going to have to be better at – I’m going to have to be better at – but we definitely want to play a hard, physical game. That’s part of what makes our team good.’

The Rangers would help themselves out by spending less time defending.

Florida has had a distinct advantage in possession, particularly Sunday while lead New York 108-44 in shot attempts. The Panthers being on the attack so often has made the Rangers increasingly vulnerable to whistles, which tend to go against whichever team doesn’t have the puck.

Before Game 3, Trouba and his defensive partner, K’Andre Miller, had been off to a strong start in the series. They didn’t allow any goals against in the first two games, with the Rangers holding a 37-35 edge in shot attempts while they were on the ice, according to Natural Stat Trick. But they were victimized for two five-on-five goals Sunday, plus another on the penalty kill, while being out-attempted 34-9 at 5v5.

It’s probably no coincidence that Trouba was only called for one penalty in Games 1 and 2 combined, then three alone in Game 3.

‘It’s obviously something we want to improve on,’ he said.

While the Rangers acknowledge the need to tighten up their defense and cut down on the penalties, they’ve also made it clear they don’t want their captain backing down after the fine.

He leads the team with 48 hits through 13 playoff games, with head coach Peter Laviolette encouraging him to keep it up heading into Game 4 on Tuesday.

‘We need that physical presence,’ Laviolette said. ‘That’s something that he brings, and he brings it all the time. We’re in a physical series right now, and so we need guys playing hard and playing physical. He’s somebody that we can count on to do that. There’s some (penalties) that I don’t necessarily agree with (Sunday), that he went to the box on, and so it is what it is. But from what he brings to the team for his physical presence, our group needs that. He’s been consistent with it really his whole career.’

Vincent Z. Mercogliano is the New York Rangers beat reporter for the USA TODAY Network. Read more of his work at lohud.com/sports/rangers/ and follow him on Twitter @vzmercogliano.

This post appeared first on USA TODAY