Memorabilia Memories, with Rick Ackerman
This article was originally going to be a tribute to the Blues Jackets' Nationwide Arena in Columbus and the wonderful fan experience there, yet I am still dismayed and distressed by the officiating debacle in Detroit last Sunday. So, instead, I will devote this column to explaining how and why my favorite sport is run by a garage-league bunch of fools who still cannot get many calls right despite advanced technology and specific rules.
As anyone reading this already knows, the OT game-winning goal scored by Detroit's Justin Abdelkader was clearly scored with a broken stick. NHL rule 10.3 is specific that "A player whose stick is broken may participate in the game provided he drops the broken stick. A minor penalty shall be imposed for an infraction of this rule." So, why was the goal allowed and why wasn't Abdelkader assessed a minor penalty? The referees scurried off the ice and would not respond to Blues captain David Backes or coach Ken Hitchcock. The NHL ruled the play was not reviewable, even though the rulebook (38.2) clearly states, "Every goal is to be reviewed by the Video Goal Judge." This rule further states, "When the Video Goal Judge observes an incident involving a potential goal that was undetected by the on-ice officials he will contact the Referee at the first stoppage of play and inform him that a review of the play is in progress." If the NHL has the technology and wants to protect the integrity of the game, then why was protocol not followed in this case? Why wasn't the correct call made in the first place? The broken stick was in the net with the puck, after all.
Of course, many pundits claimed the Blues put themselves in jeopardy when Patrik Berglund was assessed a tripping penalty late in the third period of a tie game, including Hitchcock, who took the high road, blaming the player for the penalty. And to a degree, that is true, except the replay showed Berglund never actually tripped Wings' defenseman Niklas Kronwall with his stick, and that they hit skate-blades with Kronwall conveniently falling down as a result. Ironically, the NBC feed later showed a feature on diving and how the NHL is cracking down on players who go down far too easily. Apparently that doesn't apply to the Wings at home in Detroit.
The game was evenly played and officiated for two periods. Yet in the third period, whenever the Blues started upping their game and gaining momentum, they were assessed penalties. Detroit had three power plays in the third period, the Blues none. Overall, the Blues were one for four; the Wings one for six, including the disputed game winner in overtime. There was no consistency in officiating during the third period.
Of course, one of the referees in the game, Eric Furlatt, is the same official who gave David Backes a major match penalty for a "hit to the head" on Detroit's Kent Huskins in the third period of a 3-3 tie in 2013 in Detroit. Naturally, the Red Wings scored two power play goals (Datsyuk and Zetterberg, of course) to win that game. What's the problem? Replays clearly showed Backes hit Huskins squarely in the chest and was not even close to the defenseman's head.
That incident followed another strange incident in which a goal was scored against Jake Allen and the Blues in Vancouver on March 1. Halfway through that game, a 2-2 tie at the time, Jannik Hansen put a shot on goal from the left corner that Allen got his body on. Referee Tom Kowal whistled play dead when he lost sight of the puck and then Allen moved and the puck dropped into the net. Despite the fact the whistle had already blown, the goal was nevertheless allowed, and yes, that play was reviewed. How can a goal be scored after the whistle? The Blues did storm back in the third period with three straight goals to tie the game, which then ended with a shoot out win by the Canucks and another lost point by the Blues.
Since March 1 (12 games), the Blues have had 32 power plays (2.67/game) and have had to kill 43 penalties (3.58/game), not surprising since nine of these contests were on the road. However, in half of the 12 games, the opponents had more power plays (the Blues won four of those six games). The Blues had a power play advantage in only two games, shoot out losses at Winnipeg and Vancouver. In four of the 12 games, the penalties were even. Despite the disparity, the battlin' Blues are 6-3-3 in March.
No, my discontent and disdain for the officiating is not the penalties called against the Blues, rather, it is directed at those penalties not called on their opponents, especially the slash on Tarasenko's hands in Pittsburgh that went unnoticed. Remember? The Blues did not have a power play during that game. The same was true in Sunday's debacle in Detroit as many noticeable Wings fouls were simply ignored and not called.
All anyone wants is for there to be a level playing field in which both teams, no matter who they are, are treated the same by NHL referees and there is consistency in the application of the rules.
Advanced technology and the NHL rulebook allow ALL goals to be reviewed, yet the league also says some plays are not reviewable, thusly compromising the integrity of a process designed to get the right call. Allowing Abdelkater's overtime goal was a clear abuse of that integrity and truly what makes the NHL a garage league.