Tom Sestito found himself in the Penguins lineup Wednesday night to help protect Evgeni Malkin from potential vengeance on behalf of the Winnipeg Jets after his illegal and unpunished high hit to the head of Blake Wheeler the last time these two teams squared off. Sestito now may find himself suspended.
In just 13 minutes of game time Big Tom involved himself so much that after the game many were questioning whether Pittsburgh should have even bothered to waste a roster spot calling him up.
He fought forward Chris Thorburn early in the first period, and followed that up with the hit that earned him a hearing with the NHL’s Department of Player Safety. He received a five minute major and game misconduct for this hit from behind to Winnipeg defenceman Toby Enstrom:
I’ve got two problems with this hit. Enstrom clearly sees Sestito. He 100% looks right at him while skating back to the puck. He sees him coming and still decides to casually turn instead of really trying to explode. He’s not making an evasive move. He’s flat out turning his back to an oncoming attacker. Turning around and standing there like a sitting duck is not the best option, especially when it’s a guy like Sestito.
Having said all that, I don’t blame Enstrom for the type of hit. Yes he turned, but I can see him shielding the puck and trying to win a battle. If Tom comes in with full control, it’s a standard issue pin to the boards and no one questions Enstrom at all.
Sestito has to think puck first here. He has the right to hit and Enstrom is eligible, but he has to come in with hands down, stick down, and at the very least guide Enstrom in. A smart player would see the situation.
Enstrom is a left shot, so any play he makes up the boards would automatically turn his back toward Tom. It’s the natural mechanics of the motion. For the big man to come in with hands and stick up like that is reckless by itself. It’s not a penalty, but it shows he had no intention of trying to win the puck. He was looking to hit regardless of what Enstrom did, so this is still all on Sestito to control the type of hit.
What makes this suspension worthy to me, along with the lack of thought entering the situation, is that Sestito makes no effort to let up on the hit even after it was clear disaster. He actually pushes into the hit even more at impact. Whether he meant to or not, whether it was preventable or not at the moment Enstrom turned his back, is irrelevant. It was preventable by his approach in entering the situation to begin with.
You see guys like Zetterberg, Tavares, Tarasenko, or Crosby who are impossibly strong on the puck and good at takeaways. That’s their focus. Then you have guys like Oshie, Draisaitl, and Johansen who are more apt to take the body, but are still on the lookout in case the puck becomes available.
That’s the way guys like Sestito need to play. They have to remember they’re still in a hockey game. I know that’s not what he’s there for, and there’s the problem. In the moments when his services are needed, he should do what he has to do. I get that. But you have to be able to turn it off too. If he’s not there to use proper hockey technique the majority of the time, he shouldn’t be playing hockey.