Monday, March 17, 2008

Something's missing here

So far, I've checked both Washington papers in order to get some perspective on yesterday's game, and they both fail to address a major issue: the horrendous officiating. It's one thing if the refs missed a call or two, but to miss a blatant trip that immediately resulted in a goal and call a non-existant dive in order to even things up late in a tight game? Just terrible.

For visual evidence of the first blown call, see below:

Now, at the top of the frame you'll see the referee responsible for handling calls in the defensive and neutral zone skating away from the play to pick up the pieces of a broken stick, which meant he was out of position and unable to view the play. Fortunately, the NHL has a two referee system in which the far side official (whose primary zone is the offensive zone) has the right to make a call if his partner misses it. The offensive zone official swallowed his whistle for no apparent reason, and because Brooks Laich was taken down on the play he was unable to cover the third man into the zone (Kobesaw), who was wide open for the only goal the Bruins would score in the game.

The Ovechkin diving call was as ridiculous a call as the trip on Laich was a non-call. Ovechkin had charged into the offensive zone at full speed and was attempting to split the defense when not one but BOTH defensemen lodged their sticks between the Russian Machine's legs. Ovechkin went down (not surprising, since you can't really skate on wood or fiberglass or whatever sticks are made of nowadays) and the referee made a call that was more out of the dead puck era than today's NHL. Instead of simply making the right call, the official "evened up" the penalty by calling Ovechkin for the (non-existant) dive. The result? Instead of a 5 on 4 power play, the teams would skate 4 on 4 and the Caps would be without one of their best players for the entirety of the penalties. It was a chickensh-t call by a chickensh-t ref.

It's not neccesarily an indicator officials are having an off night when there are as many "ref you suck" chants as "Lets go Caps" ones. What IS indicative of a terrible showing is veteran defenseman Tom Poti making comments to a locker room reporter about the slanted officiating while the game was still in progress, which will undoubtedly lead to a large fine. Players in the league know that the calls aren't always going to go their way, and are accepting of that. When they're willing to voice their displeasure in a public forum and take the financial hit that come with it (and they're not crybabies like Jagr or Lemeuix), you know they've got a legitimate beef.

The officiating debacle very nearly overshadowed the game, which the Caps were able to pull out in the shootout with a great delay shot by Alex Semin and a typically nonchalant (read: slooooooooooooooow) move to spread Alex Auld's legs and put the puck between them by Viktor Kozlov. If the NHL expects to have paying customers in the stands, they best be sure that they improve the level of officiating in their games, ESPECIALLY games involving one team in a "traditional" hokey market (like Boston or Toronto) and one that is not. Otherwise the impression will continue to exist among fans that the league has a vested interest in who makes the playoffs (the "traditional markets" and who doesn't (everyone else). And that is as damaging an impression as any other to the league's integrity and a threat to the expansion of the game into non-traditional markets.


aneesa said...

I agree that the officiating has worsen [in the NHL and AHL]. I attended the Hershey Bears game on Saturday and if the referees watched the same game and actually called penalties, there should have been so many boarding calls that you would have thought that we were at Southwest Airlines checking in passengers. We have seen too many instances of poor refereeing this season and always to the benefit of the opposing team. At some point, poor officials have to be made accountable. Is the NHL too one track-minded [in doling out penalties and fines to players and coaches] to hold referees accountable for their poor decision-making?

Grooven said...

So what's needed is twofold.

1. Some sort of public forum or review system instead of the top-secret crap that Colin Campbell and Gary Bettman pull. Most of the time I'm actually on the side of the officials. (Yes Jurcina highsticked the guy despite what many fans chanted.) But some of the blatant misses have been appalling. A committee of retired players? One fan from each team? *shrug*

2. The local media needs to get all up in arms about it. (I know they don't really care.) Do you think a botched penalty resulting in a goal would go unmentioned in Toronto? If there's enough media attention when warranted (that doesn't mean EVERY missed call -- refs are human and can't see everything via slo-motion from seven different angles), maybe that would help move the NHL to react and respond to the issue of the quality of officiating on ice.

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