Lighting the Lamp with Rick Ackerman
As much as I love going downtown to watch the St. Louis Blues play hockey and soak up the atmosphere at the TradeStocks Center, there is something to be said for staying home and watching all the NHL marquee match-ups on the big screen. No, I don’t have a movie theatre in my house. I do have a new 65" 4K HD television, though, and it is a joy to watch hockey from the comfort of my own couch. I not have to endure heavy rush-hour traffic and un-timed traffic lights on the Forest Park Expressway (there is no way I can endure the mess on 40), nor do I have people seeking more beer or the restrooms getting up and walking in front of me during play or blocking my view when they jump up out of their seats at critical times.
Yes, at home I have a clear, close-up view of the action from several angles. I also subscribe to Center Ice and watch other games before the Blues’ game and during the intermissions. Best of all, I get instant replay. And it is that instant replay that allows me to see just how terrible officiating is in the NHL.
No, this is not going to be a rant about how the officials pick on just the Blues and favor all the other teams. No, I am not going to complain that the Blackhawks (or in the past the Red Wings) get all the breaks from the officials and the War Room in Toronto when it comes to disputed goals. And, no, this is not about how big-market or Canadian teams get favorable treatment. Thanks to Center Ice, it is easy to see that overall there is no consistency in the officiating league-wide and incompetence is the rule rather than the exception in far too many NHL games.
Every year the NHL finds some minor penalty that is exalted and enforced above all others. This year calling hooking penalties is the new fad, and if a player gets his stick up into the midsection of another, a hooking minor is sure to be called, especially if the stick comes anywhere near the hands. Last year it was interference, and if an offensive player dumped the puck in and was consequently checked, interference minor was assessed. That is completely ignored this season, as is crosschecking. You can count on both hands and maybe toes how many crosschecking incidents on the part of both teams are ignored tonight, especially in front of the net. Of course, hooking penalties will be freely assessed, with perhaps a couple of slashing infractions, too, especially if sticks are broken.
Yes, I am well aware that the game today is fast and furious and the players are bigger and faster and rougher and tougher. Yes, I know that the referees and linesmen are only human and it is easy to make mistakes in the heat of the action and not see everything.
A very wise person (it was Alexander Pope) once said, "To err is human; to forgive divine." Well, I, for one, am not so divine, particularly when it comes to hockey.
Even with the coach’s challenge and instant replay from several different views in the War Room, they get it wrong all too often, especially on goals negated by goaltender interference, second to hooking in popularity for NHL referees. Chicago’s Joel Quenneville almost had a coronary in a game in Arizona recently over a disallowed goal.
Our own Ken Hitchcock rarely loses his cool (if ever) and leaves that to assistant Brad Shaw when necessary as we saw Saturday.
So, if every goal scored in the NHL is reviewed in Toronto, please explain how Brian Elliott lost his shutout in the last game against Minnesota when Matt Dumba scored with a clearly broken stick. Experienced referee Eric Furlatt, a 14-year NHL veteran, added insult to injury by assessing a slashing (the stick) penalty to Scottie Upshall on the play. Earlier, Furlatt mistakenly halted play when Minnesota was called for too many men on the ice and the Blues had the puck. And if a goal was legally scored during the time a penalty was called but not yet served, why did Upshall have to serve the penalty? Of course, a similar incident occurred last March when the Red Wings’ Justin Abdelkater scored a decisive, overtime game-winning goal with a broken stick. Hell, it wasn’t even reviewed. Remember what Hitch said? "What are we gonna look at? The referee’s left the building. Elvis left the building. We didn’t have a chance to meet Elvis." (with thanks to Lou Korac)
And how did Furlatt (or Graham Skilliter with one year of NHL experience) miss the rather obvious kneeing infraction by the Wild’s Charlie Coyle on Alex Pietrangelo in the third period of Saturday’s game? Coyle went out his way to hit the Blues’ defenseman, leading with his knee and clearly targeting Pietrangelo’s knee. Of course, there is a history of Wild players targeting Blues (Rupp on Oshie, Dumba on Ott, Porter on Fabbri, just to name three in recent memory), yet that is not of any consequence now. It was good to see Captain Backes come into the fray (obviously he has been ordered not to fight) in defense of his mate; it would have better to see Ryan Reaves or Robert Bortuzzo retaliate; yet they were both inexplicably in the press box.
It can only be hoped that Furlatt (or Tim Peel) is not refereeing tonight’s game against the Jets.