My Obstruction Rant
I flicked back and forth between the San Jose-Montreal and Toronto-Phoenix games last night. In Bob Gainey's coaching debut, seven of eight goals were scored on special teams. In Toronto, five of seven were PP goals.
I thought the Sharks were clearly the better team in the first 30 minutes. Then they gave up because the Habs amassed an insurmountable lead on special teams goals. To be fair, a couple of those were shorthanded markers resulting from great individual plays. However, judging from his career as a player, I doubt it was Gainey who sparked the Habs to go 4-for-5 on the PP, which really nailed the coffin for Joe Thornton's new team. Speaking of Joe Thornton, why was he being booed all night? I would have understood if it was McLaren, but it's not like Joe ever did anything to hurt the Habs (3 points, -11 in 12 playoff games vs. Mtl).
The total number of penalties doesn't reflect the effect they had on the outcome. In the third, the teams were just going through the motions and only one minor was called. The game was decided by an astonishing nine minors in the second period.
Markov (one of the named Gainey singled out as an underachiever) had a great game and he bagged four points to back up that fact. Interestingly, Markov's play this season follows the team's record - he started out with some great performances, then had an average second quarter. Perhaps this guy is underappreciated, even among hardcore Habs fans.
Oh yeah - Montreal won the game 6-2.
In T.O. the first five goals were on the PP. The game actually took a turn for the better after the first 30 minutes and the 'Yotes scrapped out a 4-3 win. On most nights, the Leafs 3-0 lead - amassed on the PP, including yet another 5-on-3 goal - would have been enough.
Gretzky will do well to escape this season without an ulcer. I don't remember ever seeing him so animated as a player.
Now, on to the rant.
Both games were a farce. They were dictated by special teams. I'm getting sick of it.
Here's the way I figured the new obstruction standard was supposed to work: The referees were supposed to call all of the little tugs, hooks, whacks, pushes and shoves. Players were so accustomed to using these tactics that this would mean a parader to the penalty box early in the season. We fans were warned to brace ourselves for this, but to wait it out because it was the only way to bring back the exciting game of days gone by. Eventually, players would adjust to the new standard, and voila - Oilers-heyday-era hockey for all!
Early this season, everything seemed to be on track. It was common to see a player lift his stick to impede the puck carrier, then realize that this was no longer allowed and return his stick to the ice where it belonged. Maybe it was just the selection of games I saw, but most games were decided five-on-five. There were many minors called, but the five-on-five hockey was definitely improving.
Then, as usual, the standard started to slip. This is strictly a qualitative judgement: the clutch-and-grab was making a comeback. A memo must have been sent out to the referees to keep up the standard. Maybe the players have gotten back into shape, maybe they're learning how to get away with stuff. The number of penalties called is still high, but the consistency has disappeared. The obstruction standard now seems to apply only to scoring situations. With some refs. Situational calls and "game over-management" is making a comeback. Make-up calls are rampant. If you see a 5-on-3, you can be sure to expect one for the other team soon enough.
So, now we are mving toward the worst of both worlds. Clutch and grab hockey that is rife with - and decided by - special teams play.
I am not saying I agree with the curmudgeons out there. I sincerely think the hockey early this year (games ~5 through 30?) was superior to the NHL hockey we were accustomed to.
I do not agree that the answer is "letting the boys play," and making fewer calls. The crackdown is not misguided, but has flaws in it's execution. If anything, they have to be more strict. No more situational (location or time of game) calls, no more even-up calls. It infuriates me to see obstruction let go in the neutral zone when it would be called in the slot. Yes, obstruction in the slot can *directly* lead to or prevent a goal. However, obstruction 150 feet away from the net can *indirectly* lead to a goal. For example, see the interference on Colaiacovo last night by Doan (I think) that led to the game-winning goal. The inconsistency has to go. It baffles players and fans. Obstruction is obstruction, no matter where it is on the ice, who commits it, or whether we are in overtime or the first minute.
If you preferred hockey from the late 90s over hockey from the early 90s, that's your prerogative. Personally, I prefer hockey where the sticks are kept on the ice and are used on the puck and for stickchecking only. If a player uses his stick on another player for any reason, it should be a penalty. Right now, this is not the case. Or it is sometimes but not others.
Bob Mackenzie says the same thing as me on coaching change. However, I take issue with his description of the Bonk - Garon trade as a "clunker." This deal also brought Huet to town.