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NEAL Pionk didn’t skate Saturday but appeared fully intact the morning after taking a couple of sinister hits from San Jose Sharks forward Evander Kane.
An elbow levelled at Pionk’s head late in the third period, the second of two MMA-style manoeuvres administered to the Winnipeg blue-liner, has cost the former Jets winger big time. Kane received a minor penalty for elbowing on the play but was slapped with a three-game suspension Saturday by the NHL’s Department of Player Safety.
Kane forfeits US$112,903.23 of his salary to the Players’ Emergency Assistance Fund. He’s considered a repeat offender with a couple of suspensions in the past, including a three-game punishment at the beginning of the season for abuse of an official.
In a sharply worded statement posted to his Twitter account Saturday afternoon, Kane expressed his confusion over what he described as "a major lack of consistency" with the NHL’s department of player safety.
"A completely flawed system in so many ways. From the suspensions to appeal rights, it’s baffling to me how we as players agreed to this. You can’t continue to give some players a pass and throw the book at others," the statement said in part. "There has to be a (sic) outside third party making these decisions to remove the bias that transpires in this department headed by George Parros. None of it makes any sense."
Pionk, meanwhile, said was he was no worse for wear after getting crushed along the boards by Kane deep in Jets territory. "I feel good. Woke up feeling fine and felt fine after the game," he said. "I’m fortunate that I’m OK."
The 24-year-old blue-liner is in the midst of a career year, with six goals and 32 assists, and has been the most dependable member of a much-maligned back end.
Pionk kept his emotions in check when discussing the illegal contact.
"I watched the replay. Something hit my head. I don’t know. I’m not exactly sure what it was. I’ll probably have to watch it again," he said. "It’s part of the game. I have to take hits to make plays and we all know that."
The Jets shot count Friday was altogether misleading, considering 20 of their 32 total drives were generated during a pair of second-period power plays and a 6-on-5 late in the game with goalie Connor Hellebuyck on the bench for an extra attacker.
Their play for the bulk of the contest was stale, absent of the kind of urgency a team below the playoff lines needs to demonstrate each time out.
Winnipeg is 29-25-5 with 23 games left in the season and sits fourth in the Central, eight points back of the Dallas Stars. The Jets’ best bet is a wild-card spot but just five points separates no fewer than seven teams in the hunt.
"Over the course of the next 23, there’s going to be a lot of nights that feel like it or like playoff games, for sure. I feel like with the way we’re going right now, every night’s a playoff game," said Andrew Copp.
Andrei Chibisov was returned to the Manitoba Moose for the AHL squad’s tilt with the visiting Milwaukee Admirals but is expected to be recalled by the Jets today in time for their battle with the Chicago Blackhawks. Game time is 7:30 p.m.
The strapping Russian winger, who turns 27 this month, spent seven years in the KHL before inking a deal with the Jets last summer. In 47 games with the Moose, he has seven goals and 17 assists.
Head coach Paul Maurice has stated he’d like to see the 6-4, 235-pounder in action with the big club but doesn’t believe insterting him into the lineup is the immediate cure for what ails the team.
"The player that I take out, if that happens, is not going to be the reason that we lost that game (Friday). You’re not looking to bring a guy up who has played in the minors to change your fortunes. We lost the game and that’s the only thing that matters," said Maurice.
Defenceman Tucker Poolman, who returned to the lineup after a month away with a lower-body injury, ducked out of practice early. He’s one of a number of guys fighting the sniffles.
Third-line centre Adam Lowry (upper body), out since Jan. 19 is still listed as week to week. Mathieu Perreault (upper body) is within a similar time frame. He was hurt Jan. 31 after receiving a punishing open-hit from Boston Bruins forward Karson Kuhlman
Assistant sports editor
Jason Bell wanted to be a lawyer when he was a kid. The movie The Paper Chase got him hooked on the idea of law school and, possibly, falling in love with someone exactly like Lindsay Wagner (before she went all bionic).