Saturday, April 17, 2010

A sad day for hockey

With 2:19 left in the second period, the Montreal Canadiens looked high and dry with a 4-1 score line against the Washington Capitals. Then, in a sequence of events that I just can’t comprehend, the Capitals escape with a 6-5 victory after just 28 seconds of overtime when Nicklas Backstrom fired home his third goal of the game. I’d call that the game of the playoffs if I didn’t smell the stench in the air.

Now, I’m not one for conspiracy theories, but after tonight I can’t believe there wasn’t a concerted effort to get the Capitals back in the series. The Canadiens were full marks for their 4-1 lead, because they played the game far better- they had structure, they had defence and they worked much harder than the Capitals did. It was precisely as I thought the series would proceed, because Montreal had the qualities Washington only wished they had. Then, with 1:40 to go in the second period, a series of questionable calls allowed the Capitals to get back into the game.

-At 18:20 of the 2nd- 39 seconds after the Canadiens went up 4-1- Backstrom gets his first goal of the game after Mike Knuble ran interference on Canadiens goaltender Jaroslav Halak. There wasn’t a lot of contact, but as TSN’s Bob McKenzie pointed out, the Detroit Red Wings with Tomas Holmstrom and Johan Franzen have had goals called back on them in similar situations. We also saw Knuble fall into Halak after anticipating contact from Canadiens defenceman Hal Gill, which should have brought the goal back. In any case, it’s another example of the league’s shoddy consistency.

-Seconds later the Capitals nearly got another goal after Tom Poti literally dragged Halak out of his crease with his stick. The play was only whistled dead because of a hand pass, not goaltender interference as it should have been.

-On the 4-3 goal, Alexander Ovechkin’s first goal of the playoffs, the puck was sitting in between Halak’s pads, and sat there for a couple of seconds before Ovechkin poked it home. Now, depending on your camera angle, Halak did or didn’t have the puck, but, again, I’ve seen countless instances where the play was blown dead in that situation, and I personally lost track of the puck watching it on TV. Therefore, I have a hard time believing that goal should have stood.

-Moments later, Gill was whistled for interference after decking the Capital who dumped the puck in a fraction of a second after the puck was released. The Canadiens killed off the power play, but the Capitals gained momentum on a penalty that shouldn’t have been called.

-Minutes later, Mike Cammalleri tried to move into the slot for a shot but was instead spun around on a hook by a Capitals defender. No call.

-With two minutes to go in the game- with the Canadiens up 5-4 after Tomas Plekanec scored with five minutes to go- Andrei Markov was clipped with a high stick. The offence wasn’t detected by the officials, who instead caught Cammalleri on an infraction. Seconds later, John Carlson, the Capitals’ fine young defenceman (perhaps one day being better than Mike Green, who definitely doesn’t deserve to be a defenceman with the defence he puts in) fires home the goal that ties the game which sends it to overtime.

Now, it’s still very much possible- and perhaps even likely- that all this will be moot and Montreal, who plays the game far better and far more completely than the run-and-gun Capitals do, will still win the series in five or six games, but if the series turns here and Washington wins the series, you can point directly to this series of officiating blunders as the turning point. If one, or even two, of these incidents occurred, I may have written it off as officiating mistakes, but the sheer number of these Capital-favourable calls at the moment they needed it most makes it hard for me to believe it was not a concerted effort by the officials to “help” the Capitals through. If so, it’s not the first time the legitimacy of NHL officials can be questioned- recall the Stephane Auger/Alexandre Burrows incident earlier this season- which points to a disturbing officiating trend. Perhaps this isn’t at Tim Donaghy standards, but games like this- with a team, the Capitals, who are known to be favoured by the league’s marketing department- sure won’t assuage feelings that we’re not getting there. Come on, NHL, wake up. The Canadiens- and the Capitals- deserve much better. If the Canadiens do indeed go down, I want it to be because the Capitals were better, not because they received favourable calls from the officials. I want to believe in this sport again. Don’t let me down.


UPDATE: A giant thank you to Moey's Musings for the mention: Habs and other Moey musings: A rare treat...... Check out her site, she has a lot of interesting stuff.

Daniel, great thoughts on tonight's game...I will be watching this series carefully as it continues. I know thursday night was DEFINITELY a surprise for "#1 Washington" fans....
Daniel, thanks for the email.

You certainly have an interesting take, and all you say is indeed true. However, I think you are viewing things through a prism here. The game was loosely called and calls for both teams went away.

Instead of an inquiry into the NHL officiating, I suggest an inquiry into Montreal coaching after this one. NHL refs have reffed in this way for as long as I can remember, it's the important game syndrome. They seem to feel they don't want to end the game one way or the other because of a penalty, instead preferring to end the game one way with no calls. Montreal has to understand this, and more importantly work in this framework. Don't allow Halak to be pushed, push around Varlamov, hook, interfere, generally play to the rules being reffed rather than those in the book.

It's true what you said and, let's admit, it's still a case where the standard of officiating needs to be looked at. Referees should be blind to the scoreboard and whistle fouls when they occur no matter when they occur. Yeah, a team that's down would like to have a break but if they commit a penalty I expect it to be whistled down.

As for this game, it went beyond the simple "it's looser in the third" mentality- it seemed the Capitals, more often than not, got the benefit of dubious decisions, so much so that I can't help but think the referees helped them along. This may not have been as bad as in 2002 when the Los Angeles Lakers got by the Sacramento Kings on the basis of excessive trips to the free throw line but it was close. I mean, I can't recall a game where one team received that many favourable decisions at such an opportune time. Something's wrong with that, don't you think?

With regards to the coaching, you're right- Jacques Martin didn't calm his players down as he should have. I don't recall Montreal using their timeout at all during the game. Still, the balance of play was affected by refereeing decisions and that's not right.

Here there Daniel,

Great article!

I think you make a great point about consistency.

Over the course of a season there will be times when refereeing goes for you and times when it goes against you, but it is the lack of consistency that is particularly maddening.

That, in my opinion, is far more frustating than just the missed calls.

Missed call will happen, but there needs to be some uniformity to them, across the league, across the season and across the playoffs.

Why is referreeing always different in the 1st period than in the 3rd period or overtime or the playoffs?

It's gross and what uiltimatley gets fans upset.

Again, nice article!

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