Friday, March 21, 2008

Not Again...

Our last game against a non-divisional foe, and certainly we're all glad to see a win. Not the best of play, to be sure, but at least we saw some positives, right? Secondary scoring, great goaltending, and far fewer penalties than usual.

But then again, the penalty situation just got a whole lot more interesting last night, in my mind anyways. Watching the highlights on youtube, 1:43 in we'll see a play that sees Commodore with the puck getting boarded. I've gotten tired of guessing at why penalties can't be caught when they're happening right with the play and the puck, so seeing Commodore skate to the bench without even looking to a ref doesn't surprise me, even as his nose bleeds.

The video I have been looking for though, shows a much different penalty problem. It's late in the game, near the Blues' net, and Vermette gets a high-sticking penalty for hitting Jackman (I believe) in the face. He reacts to being hit, holds his face, and then Vermette goes to the box.

What concerns me is the replays I saw. Vermette's stick was never near Jackman's face. But, one of Jackman's own teammates did a rainbow-style blow to Jackman, and clearly Jackman's reaction comes from that brutal stick hitting his face. Clearly, upon review, no penalty should have been called.

I would like to know just what would have happened if things had been a bit more inconvenient. Say we were tied at that point, and on the wrongly attributed powerplay, the Blues scored what ended up being the game-winning goal. Would later replays have allowed the game to be replayed, as a recent junior game was replayed due to a bad offside call that affected the outcome?

This is why I've always supported looking into challenging penalties, called or uncalled, because of how crucial it can be. I hate to think of the day when this affects a team making the playoffs or not, or heaven forbid determining a playoff series. Humans are fallible, and they deserve a second chance, a video review.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Icing for Devil's Cake

Maybe you haven't heard about the Wild's Foster suffering a broken leg while racing to touch the puck on an icing call against the Sharks' fellow rookie Mitchell. Surely though, you've heard Don Cherry go on and on for ages about why touch icing should be abolished from the league.

Touch icing has injured player after player, and the senseless losses must be stopped. Sure, touch icing keeps the game exciting, giving for a frantic rush down the ice, and the chance for a team to release the puck from deep in its own zone, enabling some great plays and excitement over the years.

But for all the excitement, having to spend an eternity carefully taking a promising rookie like Foster off the ice just kills the game. The memory of the incident, along with the physical damage of it, will undoubtedly change Foster's game for a while, if not for a long time.

Touch icing is just too high a price to pay for that thrill, so why not see if the risk can be lowered? Instead of forcing the two players to rush all the way to the puck, crashing the boards and each other, why not change up the situation? Changing to no-touch icing could make the defensive zone a near-inescapable zone for teams struggling to move into attack mode, but we can have the best of both worlds.

Why not propose some solutions? Instead of having to touch the puck, why not change the rules so that if the puck is passed into a team's zone from beyond centre ice, that team must cross into the zone first? This could still allow for some nice puck-tosses from deep in your own zone, and for a player to break out and slip first into the zone, and then get good scoring chances. It would also give some motivation for the defender to ease off. Once the attacker crosses into the zone first, the defender doesn't have the motivation of getting a faceoff at the other end of the ice, and could instead focus on how best to defend the attacker, or hold off any assistance.

There has to be a way out there to stop the deadly board-crashing that has hurt so many over the years, while keeping the excitement alive. I won't ever propose bigger nets, but I think this is a change that has been waiting far too long to be looked into, and taken far too high a toll in the meantime.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Righting the Ship

After a long - and for Sens fans very tiring - series of slumping, the Sens have pulled off an impressive win over the Canadiens, winning 3 - 0 in pretty much the toughest arena to play in. While three straight wins over teams with varying playoff aspirations, the Sens are far from guaranteed to be out of their months-long slump. Despite this, there is much hope to be found in tonight's game.

Against one of the better defensive teams in the league, and a very hot young goaltender in rookie Carey Price, the Sens managed to score three goals on only 24 shots, and helped Gerber to get his second (or third, depending on how important Ray's first and only save against Carolina was in your mind) shutout this season. It was a good sign, both for success and for team cohesion, that the Sens managed to block 24 shots, and attempted to block 15 more (coincidentally, the Habs blocked just 15 shots, and failed on attempts to block 24 others).

Some other numbers bring more hope as well. While you can never be thrilled that they missed 17 shots, the fact that they put 56 shots towards the Habs' net, nearly one every minute, shows plenty of untapped potential, hopefully just waiting to burst forth in early April. The 23 hits, including 6 by Fisher, are another good sign that we are starting to regain our confidence (but let's overlook the 33 hits the Habs pounded us with).

Possibly most shocking and pleasing of all was that the stats sheet notes that Spezza committed 0 giveaways, a season best for our top line centre. Shocking still was that the ice time lead was held by Phillips with only 21:54, and with Alfie playing less than 19 minutes, far less than Paddock had him skating for, which will go well with his three day rest until the Sens host the Blues on Sunday to help him heal further. Oh, and did I mention that our powerplay has been a whopping 6 for 9 in the last three games, and in those same three games we haven't allowed a powerplay goal against in 16 chances, even getting a shortie from Fisher on Saturday against Phoenix?

Certainly it's still a long way to proving we're over the slump, and a months long journey lies ahead if we want to prove ourselves the contenders we all hope we're cheering for. But saying that, I also believe that these particular three games, with the Sens playing dominating games and winning by a combined score of 11-3, show a team with the potential to be even more dominating than people thought we were after our 16-3 start, as many of those victories were close fought or in overtime. As the commentators on RDS said tonight, when Neil gets back in the lineup, the Sens will have not only their full squad back, but also a full range of options available to them to dominate games. From hot goaltending to a solidifying blueline, and from physical and crafty, speedy forwards to the only team with three 30 goal scorers, the Sens have the potential to be the best team in the NHL for the first time in decades; all that's left is for them to realize it.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

NHL Penalty Madness Must End

This is not right. This is not fun. This is not acceptable. This must end. I have been saddened by my team's play and troubles of late, and of the problems with the league, and that has kept me from blogging about the sport I love, but I cannot stand by any longer.

When I watch NHL hockey, I come to see the best players in the world play the fastest non-motorized team sport in the world, and generate some of the most exciting, guns blazing action in the sporting world. Games like one earlier this season on Hockey Night in Canada between the Sens and the Habs define the level of excitement that you can have, even without much scoring.

But this season we Sens fans have had to endure blasphemy. We have had to watch as the trap sucks the life out of the game. We have had to watch as Anaheim "abides" by the cap, and tears up the league with discount, unretired players at the steepest of discounts. But worst of all, haunting us every game, we find that the referees are butchering the game.

From the start of the season it has been non-calls, wrong calls, and not a game has gone by without plenty to complain about from the men in white and black. I think of memories of checks on puck-carrying Sundin that led to penalties, non-calls when sticks broke as they were cross-checked over our captain's back, blindness from the referees when our boys in red carry the puck and end up tripped, slashed, and brutalized, only to go unguarded by the referees.

We have the ability. I do not doubt the capability of our referees to call the games properly, but something must be done to fix this, to send the message that we hate the scourges that plague our game and strip it of its dignity. Fair and even refereeing needs to be established across the league, east and west. The appearance of home-team skewing and star and beloved players being blessed by the calls and non-calls around them needs to evaporate.

Maybe we need to remember that we once called goals only with a man behind the glass behind the net, and now we realize that many goals exist or don't exist when we use the magic of technology to slow down our game enough to lay fair judgement. Some form of technology, perhaps alongside the refs, or allowing 'penalty reviews' similar to goal reviews, with some form of limiting, could be investigated, but all this is moot. There is a problem, and it needs attention drawn to it, it needs to be fixed.

As a fan of the great sport of hockey, I feel that my sport has been cheapened, has been nickeled and dimed. I feel that the reffing in this league has been anything but perfect this season, and at many times worthless. I want all those, across the league, who would agree that our sport has been cheapened to join with me. For cheapening our sport, and letting it bleed, I want all hockey-loving and passionate NHL fans out there who share my views, no matter what colour your jersey is, to join me in sending Gary Bettman a message. If you feel as I feel, send a nickel to Gary Bettman. Send him a roll of them if you want and can afford it. Stamp, nickel, envelope and all, it costs you less than a dollar to complain, but the damage to our sport, especially should it go unnoticed, cannot have a price placed upon it.

Please join with me, and mail your nickel(s) to:
Gary Bettman
National Hockey League
1251 Avenue of the Americas
47th Floor
New York, NY 10020