Kukla's Korner


Habs Top Sens, And The Goal/Game That Was Stolen Away

After the Senators lost 3-2 to Montreal in the shootout, I find myself in a debacle. On one hand, I could follow journalistic instincts and not speak of bad calls ruining the game.

Or, I could preserve common sense and point out the complete nonsense that ruined the game. I’ll sit on the fence by bringing it up later, but rest assured that this won’t be the last time you hear about it.

Tonight, the Sens played their best game during their now 6-game losing streak, and yet a loss once again reared its ugly head. With a straight face, it should be near impossible to say that the Habs outplayed or outworked the Sens. The irony is that those kind of wins used to be Ottawa’s specialty.

Right from the drop of the puck, the Sens winning that opening faceoff, the energy was plainly seen throughout every red jersey. The shot total, Ottawa leading 25-21 after 65 minutes of play, completely misleads you from the intensity of the game, much as the 1-0 score for much of a Sens-Habs match up last season was misleading then.

From the NHL.com stats, the 51-47 pucks-towards-net lead of the Senators gives you a better impression of the action. The play was physical everywhere, Senators not letting up in leading 28-26 in hits, despite missing their top two hitters, Fisher and Neil. George Laraque laid a massive hit in the corner on callup Brendan Bell, and the glass rattle rippled out around the rink, needing safety investigation. The Sens’ dominance spread to nearly every category, sadly leading 19-13 in giveaways, but not so sadly trailing in giving up only one powerplay to the Canadiens’ five, though both would score once with the man advantage.

Little signs of the Senators’ efforts were peppered throughout the game. At one point, a player was pinned back against the board but, arms and head being free, used them to make a play anyways. Heatley’s goal to open the scoring took a Picard shot that fell off of Alfie’s back, and chipped the bouncing puck over Price’s glove, ending Price’s 126 minute long shutout streak against Ottawa, though the Habs would retaliate on the powerplay, Ottawa allowing the puck to penetrate to Auld down low, and Koivu stuffing it five hole.

The second period showcased the Senators’ dominance, limiting Montreal to just three shots on goal, going 26 minutes before connecting in the third with a fourth. Absent scoring, with five minutes left jawing would lead to the gloves being dropped as Steve Begin and Cody Bass, in his first game since being called up, would trade a few good punches before tumbling to the ice.

The 21 shots through overtime highlight the defensive changes taking shape with this team. Hartsburg has been unable to coax goals out of this team, but Spezza has admitted that Hartsburg has been the most defensively sound and detailed coach of the team, and that it’s been adaptation, transitioning out of defensive play, that has caused the team trouble.

The third would give Ottawa the lead, as Picard and Phillips would combine to get the puck to the net, and Foligno chipped it under Price. Their lead would last 10 minutes, same as in the first, and Markov would connect with a blast to beat Auld and tie the game. Even with a powerplay in overtime, the Sens could not close the deal, and for the second game in a row the Senators found themselves in a shootout, holding the League’s worst shootout record since its introduction.

Spezza led the shootout and the scoring, beating Price cleanly to get the crowd, which had been buzzing all game long between Senators cheering their leads and local and visiting Montreal fans celebrating the tied moments with their familiar “Ole”. Neither Kovalev nor Alfredsson could make use of their chances, but on the fourth shootout shot, Markov would beat Auld five-hole with a quick deke to shot. Despite Ruutu’s roughly 50% success rate in shootouts, and Koivu trying the same move as Markov, neither could end the game, Price making a particularly beautiful glove save after a nice Ruutu fake.

Vermette would be sent out for the Senators, and missed his opportunity. Tanguay would not, and his five hole shot would make it through to end the game.

Like the Senators of old, the Canadiens were able to ride out the game, turn on some skill to stay alive, and rely on that skill to eke out a win in a game where their play was badly outclassed. Luck would be on their side as well, as two separate pucks would make their way under Price to hit the inside of the post, but not crossing the goal line fully to make him pay.

What of the critical juncture, the officiating that doomed this game? In the League, it cost the Senators only one point, but it won’t be a point that will soon be forgot.

According to NHL.com‘s recap:

Antoine Vermette appeared to have scored the go-ahead goal for Ottawa 17:55 into the second during a delayed penalty call.

Referee Don VanMassenhoven immediately waved it off, despite Senators alternate captain Chris Phillips’ protests, indicating that he had blown his whistle when Montreal defenceman Francis Bouillon played the puck just before Vermette beat Price with his shot from the slot.

I believe it was Volchenkov, not Vermette, but the rest remains fairly accurate. After the arm went up for the delayed call, the Senators played the puck in behind Price, then to the side of Price, and then to Volchekov, who scored the goal. The disconnect? When the puck was in transit to Volchenkov, it bounced off of Bouillon’s stick. A close video replay, displayed multiple times, showed the puck hitting the stick at a very low angle, barely being deflected.

According to the NHL rules, rule 15.1 states that:

Should an infraction of the rules which would call for a minor, major, misconduct, game misconduct or match penalty be committed by a player or goalkeeper of the team not in possession of the puck, the Referee shall raise his arm to signal the delayed calling of a penalty. When the team to be penalized gains control of the puck, the Referee will blow his whistle to stop play and impose the penalty on the offending player or goalkeeper.

Review of the replay clearly shows no control, despite contact with the puck. If there had been intentional course-alterations on the puck, if Bouillon had been able to shoot, pass, deke, or otherwise ‘control’ the puck, it would have been different. But it was not. Despite the protests, the Senators received a powerplay instead of the goal they rightfully deserved.

Could the decision now be reversed? Of course not. Had the goal been allowed, as it should have been, there would have been no powerplay, and all in all the entire course of the game could have changed. As Sens fans will see it, it would have been a 3-2 win. As Habs fans see it, they might let one bad call go unchallenged, remembering the call that won them two points in the standings, two points their play most definitely did not earn.

At this point, one can be upset, but there is nothing left to do. The game is over, and the Habs’ 100 year celebrations are back on track. What should be considered is why referee Don VanMassenhoven was able to think that contact with the puck equated control; you would never say the boards control the puck, even as it bounces off them.

Even more perplexing, he skated over to where referees go to consult with the Toronto War Room, but spent almost no time in communication there.

Everyone should understand that the game would slow to a crawl if every penalty called were sent to the War Room, and that simply won’t happen. But the War Room is indeed meant to review goals, and this call directly disallowed a goal. It took no time for television crews to show the bad call, and in cases such as this, where a call does directly affect a goal, and there is an extremely questionable nature to that call, it should go to the War Room. Two points may not seem like much, but two points last season were what kept the Sens, Bruins, and Caps in the playoffs.

I will repeat again, despite the clearly wrong nature of the call, the aftermath does not have such a clear path. Don VanMassenhoven may have even blown the whistle as soon as he saw the puck hit Bouillon’s stick, and the case could be made that in the fraction of a second it took for Volchenkov to receive the puck and blast it into the net 10 feet away, players hearing the whistle could have let down their guard enough to make the difference.

It would have been better for Don VanMassenhoven to wait for the puck to be controlled, not contacted, by a Canadiens player, and then blow the whistle. Reverse the situation; make it so that the whistle is not blown before the goal, but Bouillon clearly does control it, however briefly before giving it away. Now you have the rock solid defense that refs have used plenty of times, and should always be able to use: the whistle was blown in their heads when it should have been, but the body was not as quick. Flailing arms should not delay a whistle needing to be called, and indeed they don’t.

For Sens fans, this is yet another game where head-shakingly-ridiculous bad luck blocked their dominating efforts from breaking their slump. They must move on, but the League should take a closer look at this, to prevent it from happening again. Remember, remember, the 21st of November… and learn from it.

Update - 9:30AM

Interesting recap of the game in Montreal’s Gazette today. “Price puts Sens on ice in shootout” discusses the tremendous work of Price and Tanguay in the shootout to win the game, as well as Markov both in the shootout and on the game-tying goal.

Interesting that perhaps the most important Canadiens play — Bouillon ‘controlling’ the puck to end the delayed penalty call and stop the goal that may well have prevented Montreal from winning the game or even getting a single point in it — gets absolutely no mention whatsoever.

Filed in: NHL Rules, NHL Teams, Ottawa Senators, | SENShobo | Permalink


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About SENShobo

Native of Northern California.  Hockey fan since 1998... sort of... there's a hiatus in there that I still can't explain.

I want to know about anything and everything related to the sport and the spectacle.  I watch, I react, I write it down.

My interest in the Sharks was initially a matter of geographic convenience and regional loyalty because that seemed to be how it worked.  I had no prior interest (at all-- AT ALL) in professional sports of any kind.  When I met hockey, it might have set off a chain reaction of general sports fandom.  It hasn't, I don't think it will.  At all.

Since then, that interest developed into full blown (mostly sort of usually almost completely) exclusive loyalty to the Sharks.

I started blogging a couple years ago on wordpress. I still occasionally put things there that I don't think fit here because they are not about the Sharks. Wherever my words wander, here on Kuklas Korner, they will (usually) hang on to a teal thread.

I can be found in cyberspace on Twitter @petshark47, or emailed at talkingstick@petshark.net