END OF ROUND ONE… ALMOST…
The winner of Wednesday night’s game between Toronto and Boston will move to the second round to play Tampa Bay. The three remaining match-ups have already been determined. Pittsburgh and Washington will meet for the third consecutive year, Las Vegas will continue their inaugural season playing against the San Jose Sharks and the Winnipeg Jets will do battle with the Nashville Predators.
So with the second round just around the corner, it is time to highlight some of the action from Round One. Pittsburgh did not disappoint in the point collection area. They have Sidney Crosby and Jake Guentzel sitting in the top two spots of point getters in the play-offs. During the first round Pittsburgh scored, on average, 4.6 goals / game. Their Game Six victory of 8 – 5 was a dream come true for the ‘poolies’, lots of scoring.
There were two series that only lasted four games, these presented us with only defensive hockey. Both Anaheim and Los Angeles struggled to score goals in the first round, thank goodness they have both been eliminated. Las Vegas has moved onto the second round, but their defensive style of hockey is not great for point accumulation. Las Vegas during the first round averaged a meager 1.75 goals per game. The biggest surprise from the first round is the fact that the Anaheim Ducks were not able to stretch their series beyond four games. Historically the Ducks have had the ability to make a play-off series stretch to seven games. Winnipeg and Minnesota played some ‘old time’ hockey that featured a number of big hits, injuries and fisticuffs.
To date in the first round there have been four suspensions handed out for violent play. This shows us that the games have been physical, hard hitting and played with emotion. Two of the suspensions assessed were for hits that made contact with the head of an opponent. Over the past eight seasons, the NHL has worked very hard to eliminate the number of body checks that are delivered directly to the head. The determination of whether a suspension is handed out or not is the responsibility of the Department of Player Safety. This department takes the time to thoroughly review the game video footage from a variety of angles. Their primary concern is the main point of contact. They must determine if the body check is delivered directly to the head or if it is to the body, and then to the head.
Without video, it is very difficult to determine where the main point of contact occurs. The key element to look for is the snapping of the head of the player that is being checked. If this snapping of the head occurs independent of the body moving then the determination would be that the main point of contact was with the head. With players getting bigger, stronger and faster, identifying these illegal hits in real time is extremely difficult.
From the referee’s perspective, it is very important that they watch the contact between the players and not fall into the trap of following the puck. An expression that is used in officiating is “the puck never takes a penalty”. When a referee gets caught up in following the puck he will often miss fouls that occur to the player who last had the puck.
With the introduction of the four official system, the officials now have greater coverage of the ice. It is important to note that referees are responsible to call penalties in all zones of the ice, linesman can only assist in penalties that are worthy of a major penalty.
Often plays that happen in front of the net or just inside the blue line are difficult for the referees to clearly see. The action in these areas often involves numerous players and fast puck movement. Making the correct assessment on a foul in real time is entirely dependent on the angle or sight line that a referee is able to maintain. When we look on video — and know what we are looking for — these calls appear to be obvious. Let’s give the officials a little bit of latitude and acknowledge that the action is fast and that contact to the upper chest or the head is the difference of only an inch or two.
Each official is graded on his performance in the play-offs. Missing calls can often end the season for an official since you are expected to make the correct call, each and every time. Another reality for officials is the possibility of sustaining a serious injury on the ice. During the first round of these play-offs, four officials had to leave the ice due to injury.
Linesman Steve Barton’s season is over for this year as he recovers from surgery for a dislocated knee cap and ruptured quad muscle, sustained earlier this month during a Columbus / Washington game.
Other injuries to officials in the opening round of the playoffs included a severely pulled groin muscle, broken ribs (caused by being hit into the bench area) and internal bleeding that occurred after the official had been bumped into by a player.
What may not be common knowledge is the fact that for each and every play-off game, there is at least one standby referee in the arena. This standby referee is partially dressed and ready for action if needed. When there is a potentially series ending game (an elimination game), there is both a standby referee and a standby linesman. The injuries that occurred in the first round were to three linesmen and one referee. What should be noted about two of these injury situations is that then two referees were forced to take on the role of linesman, during the most pressure filled part of the season. Both Garret Rank & TJ Luxmore, NHL referees, entered games in the linesman position. Neither of these individuals had ever worked as a linesman in professional hockey. Their experience as a linesman would have been limited to junior hockey, likely more than over 10 years ago. One of the key roles of a linesman is the conducting of the face-off — this truly is an art. It would have been a huge challenge for both of these individuals to be suddenly thrown into a play-off game and have to deal with center men that will attempt to cheat in any way possible. Compliments to Garret & TJ as they both performed admirably.
The second round hopefully will bring us more great hockey action, with lots of goals, legal body checks and, as you might imagine, I’m hoping to see fewer injuries to the officials. To finish off Round One on Wednesday night, we’ll all be cheering for a high scoring Game 7 between Toronto and Boston.
Former NHL Referee #18