TAMPA — At first, Lightning right wing Evgeny Artyukhin treated the whole affair with a wink and a smile.
An opponent said someone should beat the (%&#@) out of him. Comes with the territory in the NHL. The same guy claimed Artyukhin doesn't speak English.
"Next game," Artyukhin said, "I'll probably tell him I can speak English."
Just so happens Maple Leafs forward Ben Ondrus, who made the comments after a confrontation with Artyukhin during Thursday's game in Toronto, is in town for tonight's game at the St. Pete Times Forum.
Artyukhin on Monday repeated with a laugh his plan to correct Ondrus' perception of his language skills. But when asked if he purposefully gets under the skin of opponents, Artyukhin turned serious.
"No," he said. "It happened just once in a year and everybody is talking about it. I don't know what are the questions for me."
It is a cumulative effect, really.
Ondrus and Maple Leafs coach Ron Wilson took exception to Artyukhin's stick between Ondrus' legs while fighting for position on a faceoff.
Artyukhin was suspended two games for a knee-to-knee hit on Florida's Ville Peltonen. And last week in Ottawa, Artyukhin threw punches at noted antagonist Jarkko Ruutu while Ruutu was down. Ruutu also claimed Artyukhin poked him in the eye.
To be fair, Artyukhin said the Peltonen hit was an accident and that he asked the league to forward an apology. Ruutu started the fracas in Ottawa by pulling off Artyukhin's helmet.
Even so, coach Rick Tocchet has talked about how Artyukhin, a 6-foot-5, 260-pounder, likely is watched closer by referees.
"I don't think Arty is a dirty guy," Lightning forward Ryan Craig said. "He's a big guy who can skate and is strong, and when he leans on you or hits you, you're going to feel it."
"The way Arty plays, he does hit and stuff," Tocchet said. "The one thing I'd like to see Arty do is when he does hit, sometimes after the whistle he kind of skates away from guys. … Every once in a while, you've got to stay in the pile."
At the same time, Tocchet said, "He's not really a guy who sticks people and runs. He hits you. You can live with guys like that."
Still, it was Artyukhin's stick between Ondrus' legs that got Ondrus so upset. At the time, he said, "He was trying to lift me up or something."
"I pushed him away," Artyukhin said. "I was just protecting my spot.
Told Monday that Artyukhin said the incident was blown out of proportion, Ondrus said, "He has his opinion," but added, "I'm not planning anything."
Tocchet wants Artyukhin looking for opportunities to hit and go to the net, be responsible in the defensive zone.
"If the other team is saying, 'Artyukhin will hit you, be careful,' that's an advantage for him and us," Tocchet said.
No need to get under anyone's skin.