Kukla's Korner Hockey
by George Malik on 12/09/06 at 06:25 AM ET
Over the past few weeks a number of NHL coaches and managers have observed what they call a "shift" in how the game is being called. Some are being even more specific by saying less is being called now than prior to last month's general manager's meeting where the topic was openly discussed. The brain-trust inside the NHL's hockey operations department grimace at the mere suggestion the league is backing off the standard. Statistically, penalties have declined marginally compared to last year and so has goal scoring, by less than half a goal. Is this a big deal?
It’s a big deal to Bettman:
Well, we know the commissioner’s office is very sensitive to any level of dip in offence. It’s believed Gary Bettman crunches the numbers on a daily basis. But, there have been no directives, or memos sent out to instruct game officials to do anything other than call the standard.
Gary’s so sensitive that he proposed further restricting goaltenders’ equipment at the Board of Governors meetings.
The truth of the matter comes in part from Sportsline’s Wes Goldstein, who talked to the Sabres about their slow-down after a ridiculously dominant start:
While offense is all the rage in the NHL, there are a growing number of players suggesting the old way of doing things is creeping back into style, not so much in the form of obstruction, but rather through defensive schemes that can be stifling. “All we’re seeing in the last month are traps, higher traps,” said goaltender Ryan Miller. “Teams are starting to play more of a one-four, and their forecheck is a little more aggressive lately, so when they’re not getting the puck, they’re stacking up five guys across to push you to one side.”
It’s also a case of too much of a good thing, according to Rod Brind’Amour and Erik Cole:
The Ottawa-born Brind’Amour and linemate Erik Cole have noticed during the western swing that inconsistencies have developed in the calling of obstruction after the crackdown by game officials last season.
“You could see it the other night,” Brind’Amour said about the Edmonton game. “It’s not the hooking and stuff — there’s definitely more interference in front of the net.
“It’s just little stuff. Some nights it’s there, some nights it’s not. I just noticed lately we’ve been getting [only] one or two power plays a game. That’s usually a sign things are not quite where they were.”
“In the East, it wasn’t too bad,” Cole added about the obstruction. “But in the first two games out here, you could see it was a little more apparent.
“Certainly teams out here skate and come at you, go pretty hard.”
As soon as the league declared that a “push” is okay, but a “shove” isn’t, the matter became a grey area.
Red Wings fans would have agreed the “battles” between Chris Pronger and Brendan Shanahan were illegal last spring. In a league where endless terrabytes of digital, break-down-your-opponent video and defensive coaching are the norm, should we really be surprised that players and coaches have “latched onto” what they believe is the most expedient way to win?
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