Hello, this is a feature that will run through the entire season and aims to recap the weekend’s events and boils those events down to one admittedly superficial fact or stupid opinion about each team. Feel free to complain about it.
No one is going to sit here and disagree that wide-open hockey is preferable to the brand displayed by teams trying to grind out wins.
No one likes board play. No one likes a thousand guys standing in the neutral zone during breakouts. No one — as we learned when the Rangers did it last year — likes the focus to be on blocking shots. No one likes obstruction.
For this reason, we are told so very often that the most important things officials can do in the playoffs is "let the boys play."
It's a fun concept. When the whistles are away, teams are allowed to play at 5-on-5 hockey which is obviously the best way to determine which is better. Ideally, all 60 minutes of every playoff game would be played at even strength. But the problem with this insistence on letting guys play is that when you do so, they tend to start committing penalties, and that, in turn, necessitates that, at some point, some of the infractions actually have to be called.
So while it's all well and good to say that for the sanctity of any individual game to be upheld, the referees should certainly not start blowing the whistle and sending guys to the box, the fact of the matter is that it's their jobs to do so. Guys break the rules, guys go to the box.
This, for some reason, doesn't make sense to people at all times.
Take, for example, Brian Strait's penalty on Sidney Crosby in overtime yesterday afternoon, a call which resulted in the Penguins' power play overtime game-winner. That it was called in overtime was somehow this egregious thing, according to Mike Milbury and Jeremy Roenick and a thousand thousand Internet commenters, a decision made by a referee overstepping his bounds.
Had this call — which was the right one because Strait got beat on the inside, took his hand off his stick and pulled Crosby down from behind, easy-ish fall or not — been made in the first period, the number of eyebrows it raised around the hockey universe would have been precisely zero. This is the kind of thing that typically happens when a coach puts a decent enough defenseman like Brian Strait on the ice in a high-leverage situation against a generational talent like Sidney Crosby, after all.
But that it happened in overtime was somehow outrageous.
The thing is, I thought we all agreed that what we want out of referees most of all consistency. Did I miss the memo that this is the kind of thing that should go straight out the window once 14 teams get eliminated?
If guys are allowed to tackle players to the ice as much in the first 20 as they are the final five, then that's fine. You know what you're getting. But for the sake of the players and coaches, knowing exactly what will and will not constitute a minor penalty is very important. Jack Capuano is going to kick and scream about the call, and it's tough to blame him considering how hard and well his team played for the majority of the afternoon, but if that same play had happened at the other end of the ice, with Mark Eaton yanking on John Tavares' jersey from behind as he drove to the net, then gee whiz wouldn't he just think that was the best call in the world?
That anyone would complain about a soft call there seems silly given what we know about the state of officiating in the NHL today. The expectation a million years ago was that you had to essentially draw blood on a crosscheck to the face to get a call in OT, and because hockey is nothing if not stuck in its ways, that's the prevailing attitude even if reality doesn't bear out that this is the way things should go.
If you don't call it that way, you get situations like what happened to the Rangers on Saturday. Karl Alzner put the puck over the glass with 46 seconds to go in the third period of a tie game. No one touched it on the way up and over. It didn't hit the glass. This should have been, by rule, a two-minute minor for delay of game. This happened plain as day. But it came just a few minutes after the expiry of a slashing penalty on Troy Brouwer, and thus, it seems that was enough to convince officials, who huddled up to confer, that something — anything, really — must have happened to prompt Alzner to swipe the puck into the fifth row.
Then, when Steve Oleksy did it again early in the first overtime, that was apparently enough. Can't ignore two of them. Ryan McDonagh doing the same a little more than five minutes after that led to the power play that ended the game. And while, given the state of the Rangers' power play, it seems unlikely that they would have scored on the one unjustly denied them, this is what happens when you don't call things by the letter of the law.
Penalties are, I understand, a matter of subjectivity to some extent, but not in this case: A puck over the glass without touching anything is a penalty every time, or at least is supposed to be.
I don't know how you let that become an issue of not wanting to call too many penalties against one team in a row in a critical situation if you're an official. It's not your job to keep penalties even, it's your job to get them right. I'd rather have something that's a penalty in the first be called a penalty in the second and a penalty in the third and a penalty in overtime. Everyone knows what's what that way.
What We Learned
Anaheim Ducks: Cam Fowler might have started off the season quite poorly but he's really turned it around. He's got six points in his last eight games and Bruce Boudreau says he's been playing better for slightly longer than that. A functioning Fowler makes the Ducks extremely dangerous.
Boston Bruins: The reason the Bruins lost Saturday night? Probably all those odd-man rushes. Joffrey Lupul's second was a 3-on-2, Phil Kessel's was a breakaway, and James van Riemsdyk's was a 2-on-2 where both defenders pursued the puck carrier and left the goalscorer wide open in front of Tuukka Rask.
Buffalo Sabres: Looks like it would be smart for the Sabres to try to move up in the draft. Picking higher gets you a better player, you see.
Calgary Flames: In a poll of Flames fans, it seems they, like any other rational person, wants Calgary management unloading anyone with any type of trade value.
Carolina Hurricanes: The Hurricanes say they want to get a player who's NHL-ready with the fifth spot in the draft, which is already drawing comparisons to the 2003 crop. A young kid out of Austria named Thomas Vanek went No. 5 overall that year. Not a bad place to start.
Chicago Blackhawks: Patrick Kane is really helping the Blackhawks succeed in this postseason already, and the reason he's doing it is because he's passing a hell of a lot more than normal.
Colorado Avalanche: Avs players led the way for the good ol' US of A in their first game at the World Championships, with Erik Johnson scoring twice and Paul Stastny named player of the game for setting up a goal and winning 68 percent of his draws. To be fair, it was only Austria. Matt Duchene also scored twice to help Canada beat Denmark but who cares?
Columbus Blue Jackets: The Blue Jackets would really like to get faster and add more scoring. This is also true of the Ducks, Bruins, Sabres, Flames, Hurricanes, Blackhawks, Aval… well, you get the picture.
Dallas Stars: The Stars' new uniforms will be unveiled in late June. Please try to contain your excitement.
Detroit Red Wings presented by Amway: Kyle Quincey says that players are too afraid of being suspended to throw big hits but that sure didn't stop Air Abdelkader from taking off into Toni Lydman's face, so maybe it's just Quincey who doesn't want to get suspended.
Edmonton Oilers: Some people in Edmonton think the Oilers need to re-sign Nikolai Khabibulin but fortunately there are very few of them.
Florida Panthers: Looks like VUKOTA way over-projected the Panthers' scoring this year, though you have to think everyone who was any good at all on that team getting hurt had a lot to do with it.
Los Angeles Kings: Maybe Jonathan Quick isn't as bad as that shorthanded overtime goal he gave up in Game 1 after all.