I wanted to chime in today on the overtime slash to the face of Montreal's Corey Perry last night. The entire hockey world is asking the same thing about it.
“WTF? How do you not call that?”
I think I check in as a pretty objective observer on this – not a Habs' fan at all. And I don't care much for Vegas either, particularly their fans. As supporters of an expansion team, they haven't paid their dues. They got to skip the misery that's plagued every expansion team fan base since the beginning of time. I don't care for it. They don't deserve any of this yet.
But I digress.
The high stick on Perry didn't happen away from the play. Vegas forward Jonathan Marchessault took a good noticeable swing. Not a home run swing. More like he was trying to slap a ball to the opposite field. Perry caught the stick blade in the face and went down obviously and immediately. Then he popped up, covered in red, like he'd just finished a country fair pie eating contest.
No call? (Insert laugh track here).
Did the referees actually not see that? Did they think (wrongly) maybe it was the puck that struck Perry in the face? Or did they choose not to call that?
I don't know the answer because, when it comes to officiating, the NHL muzzles everybody on all sides. But it sure seems to be a classic case of referees putting their whistles away. They've been doing it for as long as I can recall, and it happens at every level of hockey.
Referees don't want to be the ones to decide an important hockey game by calling a penalty at a crucial time.
I've always thought that was weird. It's not like the ref committed the infraction. Had they actually called Marchessault for playing tee ball with Perry's head, and Montreal scored on the ensuing power play (at least a double minor), it would have been Marchessault's actions that decided the game, not the ref. It would have been the failing Vegas penalty kill that decided the game, not the ref.
Or maybe Marc-Andre Fleury had another brain freeze that decided the game, (what the hell's going on with that guy)?
But the fact is, in key moments, referees put their whistles away and the entire hockey world: executives, coaches, players, fans and media have nurtured that practice.
It was obvious the referees weren't going to call much in overtime when Mark Stone tapped Joel Armia in the hands area after he'd beaten Stone for a semi-breakaway. That is a penalty call 100% of the time in the regular season. But it wasn't really a hard slash so, in playoff overtime, they let it slide.
And do you know why?
Because 100% of the time, on calls like that, NHL executives, coaches, players, fans and media will rage, “You can't make a call like that in overtime!”
Everyone, including the league, says they hate the notion of game management. Tim Peel got fired for it this year. But everyone indirectly demonstrates they absolutely want it when they say things like:
“You can't call that in the final minute of a game!”
“They had 5 power plays tonight and we had one!”
“You can't make that call when we're already shorthanded!”
Yes, the high stick on Perry was the worst of the worst. It was obvious and nasty and it's a joke it wasn't called. Had there been a penalty, even Vegas fans wouldn't have said much (although they wouldn't recognize adversity if Marchessault hit them in the face with it).
If refs aren't calling that then they might as well just leave, hit the showers and let the linesmen finish the game. This was an inch away from being a full reenactment of the Marion Hossa-Bryan Berard incident that cost Berard his vision in one eye.
I'm not absolving the referees here but when you indirectly encourage this “look the other way” mentality in your officials during big moments in games, even the big, obvious infractions are going to sometimes fall through the cracks.
On a side note, imagine what a storyline this would be if Vegas had won that game in overtime and not Montreal. It would be the same kind of rage we've heard from Leaf fans for 28 years since Wayne Gretzky clipped Doug Gilmour's chin in the 1993 semifinals.
Referees are there for two reasons. One is to keep the game fair. The other reason – the far more important one – is to keep the players safe. They failed on both counts but the culture of hockey and its unspoken desire for game "management" had a big hand in it.
Unless referees get both encouragement and free rein to enforce the rules in all circumstances, without fear of backlash and rage from their NHL bosses, you're going to continue seeing general lawlessness in the NHL's biggest moments.
By Steve Warne | Sens Nation Hockey