Wednesday, March 28, 2007

It wasn't meant to be (this year)

There were two distinct points last night when the Capitals had opportunities to cement their lead on the Penguins and take control of the game. The first was Alexander Semin's fake and pass on the power play from the right corner of the net, which he put directly on the tape of Kris Beech. Since Semin had slipped towards the front and taken on the defenseman in front, Beech had an empty net with nobody even close to him. And what did he do with it?

He flubbed it. I'm still not even sure how it's possible, but if anyone can flub a shot from two inches away (besides Zubrus), Kris Beech is the man for the job. He somehow managed to have a perfectly settled puck flip up and over his stick as he tried to redirect it into the net. So instead of a 3-0 lead, the Caps were stuck at two, and Pittsburgh dodged a game-breaking bullet.

The second point came on the first Penguins power play after a soft Bryan Muir hooking call. During the course of the penalty kill, Shaone Morrisonn had not one but two clearing opportunities with nobody on him. Both times, his weak clearing efforts were held in by the defense. Not surprisingly, Pittsburgh capitalized, and made what should have been a 3-0 game into a tenuous 2-1 score instead.

As has become habit lately, the Caps were unable to hold on.

There was some good to come of last night's game. Alex Ovechkin absolutely DESTROYED Jordan Staal with a huge shoulder check, and looked dangerous all night. Olie Kolzig was strong if not stellar throughout the game. Alexander Semin also played extremely well, although the Beech flub seemed to affect his overall game. He was considerably less likely to give up the puck to anyone that didn't speak Russian after that point. And who can blame him?

Unfortunately, we didn't get much out of the first bout between Big Donnie and Gentleman Georges Laraque. Lots of posturing, a quick tie up and a spill. Not exactly the all out throwdown we expected of two of the league's finest enforcers. Kudos to Don for keeping his head in the game and continuing to play a hard, clean physical game even after the fighting major.

I know it's a moot point, but I'm going to bring it up anyway. The referees last night might as well have been wearing yellow instead of white so their jerseys could match the team they were playing for. The tripping call against Semin was maybe the worst piece of refereeing I've seen all season. Semin had control of the puck, was being pressed by another player, made a move with the puck, and his checker tripped over Semin's stick during the stickhandling maneuver. Because of that SEMIN gets the gate? Utterly ridiculous. The non-calls on Pittsburgh all night were equally egregious. The only call the refs made against the Pens was a double minor for high sticking, and only because the play needed to be stopped because the possibility of injury existed. The only other call the refs made was in garbage time in an attempt to make the scoresheet look more balanced.

Yes, we know the Penguins are going to the playoffs. And yes, we also know the Caps aren't. But that's no excuse for the NHL (by way of its officials) to hand the game to the Pens on a silver platter. The Pens first three goals were on the power play, two of them because of questionable calls. The ice would have been slanted Pittsburgh's way last night because of the differential in talent. There is no reason, and more importantly no excuse, for the NHL to tilt it further just to keep the Pittsburgh story going. And if you think the Pens treatment last night was anything but the norm, you're a fool.

If the Pens and Crosby are as good as advertised, they should have no trouble winning games without the help of the refs. But it's clear the league isn't willing to take any chances with it's posterboy or Pittsburgh's feel good storyline.

No comments: