Saturday, March 21, 2009

Caps Down the Bolts Despite Bad Calls

I have three sons who play youth hockey. One of the things I try to drill into their heads after every game is, "Don't focus on the bad calls." I've explained to them that while the rules for fair play are clearly defined, referees are human like the rest of us and they must rely on their interpretation of events during fast action to ensure fair play for both teams, and it's unavoidable that occasionally they make mistakes. Sometimes the mistakes favor your team, sometimes they don't. Either way, players need to focus their attention on playing their best hockey, not second-guessing the refs.

I had a hard time setting a good example for my kids Thursday night as we watched the ref wash out Alexander Semin's goal and send him off to the penalty box with yet another hooking penalty. The sportscasters made a point during the game of identifying Semin as having the second-highest penalty minute total on the team. At this point, one has to wonder: is this a case of the chicken or the egg? Meaning, does he get called for so many penalties because he commits so many infractions or because he has a reputation for being called for so many penalties? I tend to believe every time he hits the ice he's skating under a spotlight where the refs are concerned; they expect him to commit penalties so they watch him closer and are far less lenient in their interpretation of his actions than other players.

All of that is inconsequential to the play I referred to earlier. It happened in the first period of the game against Tampa Bay. Semin dug the puck out at the boards and passed it to Alex Ovechkin. He then skated back into traffic in front of the net and Ovi passed it back. A TB defender intercepted the pass but didn't have good control of the puck. Semin deftly lifted the guy's stick, and the Bolt reached out and grabbed Semin's stick, holding it long enough to try to gain control of the puck. As soon as he let go, Semin lowered his stick, snared the puck, and swiftly shot it into the net. Surrounded on three sides by TB defenders, Semin stumbled and ended up in a sitting position right in front of TB Goalie Mike McKenna, staring at the puck sitting squarely in the net. Goal! Or -- not, according to the linesman nearby. Semin glanced over at the ref, saw the hand in the air and knew there would have been a penalty coming, had he not just scored. And rightly so, against TB. I watched in amazement as the camera zeroed in on Alexander Semin's face, his eyes grew wide, he pointed to himself and said, "It's on me?" He couldn't believe it, and neither could I. I watched the play in slow motion a dozen times, and I have to say that was by far the most glaring bad call I've seen in the NHL.

The ensuing TB power play led to a goal within seconds. A game that should have been 2-0 instead was 1-1.

It wasn't the only time in the game the Caps were robbed of a goal, unfortunately. In the second period, Eric Fehr deposited a rebound from a Sergei Federov shot that completely crossed the red line into the goal, then was kicked back out by the goalie. The goalie was on the ground, and there were 2 other TB players in front of the net along with Fehr. The ref immediately called no-goal and didn't call for a review. Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau called a time out, and the refs took the opportunity to review the play. After several minutes, the no-goal call stood. Again, I watched this play in slo-mo many times, and the puck is clearly in the white. How the NHL reviewers could miss it is beyond me.

Both these events were overshadowed by Ovi's 50th goal and the subsequent and controversial celebration. Ovi is the first Capital ever to score 50 or more goals in three seasons. The man is all of 23 -- the sky is the limit for the number of records he will go on to set. Mike Green also scored two goals in the game; Michael Nylander and Matt Bradley each scored one.

The outcome was as desired: a win for the Caps. It wasn't really a satisfying victory, though, when you see two players working their hearts out for this team and losing two legitimate goals. My hope is they both continue doing exactly what they've been doing, and follow the advice I give my own kids: forget the bad calls, and play the best hockey you can.

Final score: Caps 5, Lightning 2 (W).

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