‘Twas the game before Christmas, and all through the city
Canucks fans were saying, “These refs sure are…
Maybe I shouldn’t finish that poem.
Yes, another game, another reason to get upset about the quality (or lack thereof) of NHL officiating. This time around, it was a non-call on Winnipeg Jets defenceman Ben Chiarot, who got his stick up directly into the face of Tyler Motte as he skated through the neutral zone.
Or rather, that was just the last, and seemingly most consequential, of the blown calls on the night. It started with Nikolaj Ehlers whacking Jake Virtanen in the mouth with his stick while dodging a check. Virtanen was cut across the mouth, meaning it should have been a double minor.
Then there was a missed tripping call when Jack Roslovic sent Elias Pettersson to the ice in the neutral zone, followed by a softer than cotton boarding penalty on Chris Tanev. They let a ton of hacking and hooking go as well before Chiarot’s high hit on Motte. The latter sticks in the head the most because of how severe it looked, but also because the Jets scored the only goal of the game a couple minutes later.
Some Canucks fans will want to see this as a conspiracy, or at least bias, against Vancouver, but to me it just looks like inconsistent officiating. That’s partly because I left out the first missed call: in a puck battle at the Canucks blue line, Nikolay Goldobin tripped Brandon Tanev, who went nose-first into Goldobin’s knee. Tanev had to leave the game for a while and returned in the second period with a full face shield.
I’m sure someone watching that game from a Jets perspective would have seen other missed calls against the Jets or disagreed with one or more of the penalties that were actually called.
I’m not inclined to see this as a conspiracy or bias when there’s a simpler explanation available: the referees are being asked to let more go because the NHL wants more physicality in their game. It’s tough because reffing, particularly in such a high speed sport, needs to become almost instinctual. I talked to one ref (not in the NHL, but high-level junior) who described how his arm would sometimes shoot up to make the call before his brain could even fully articulate the exact penalty; he’s done it for so long that it’s nearly automatic.
Judging from the outside, refs are constantly given contradictory instructions — “Crack down on headshots, but don’t call blindside hits; we want speed and skill, so call the little hooks and holds, but let the players play and don’t let your calls decide the game.”
Instead of being able to ref on instinct — see a penalty, call a penalty — NHL refs must constantly be in their own heads, wondering if it’s the right time in the game to call a certain penalty, or if that was a hit that needs to be called or the type of “physicality” that they’ve been told the NHL wants back in the game.
Or maybe the refs are just bad at their jobs. I’m not going to lie, that was definitely my first instinct when I watched this game.
- The Winnipeg Jets are the best team in the Western Conference; the Canucks are decidedly not. So even though the Canucks didn’t manage to score a goal and lost 1-0, they have to feel good about out-shooting the Jets 40-24 and out-chancing them 36-19, according to Natural Stat Trick. “I’m proud of how we played tonight,” said Travis Green after the game, and it’s not hard to understand why.
- Seriously, 40 shots. That’s only the second time this season the Canucks have cracked 40; it’s enough to make you wonder if the Jets were on cruise control, taking it easy against a lesser opponent heading into the Christmas holidays. Perhaps they were just waiting for the Canucks to open the scoring before they fully woke up, but, when the Canucks couldn’t score, finally took matters into their own hands with two minutes left to play.
- The Jets nearly scored on the first shift of the game, but Dustin Byfuglien’s blast from the point hit Blake Wheeler in what hockey announcers usually euphemistically call the “mid-section,” as if human beings have a thorax. Judging from the way Wheeler collapsed before he could get off the ice and had to crawl/get hoisted onto the bench, he got hit in what I’ll call a “sensitive area.”
- Another plus for the Canucks in this game: they were once again perfect on the penalty kill. The Jets came into the game with the best power play in the NHL, scoring on 29.2% of their opportunities, but couldn’t get one past the Canucks, who have now killed 22 straight penalties and gone 9 games without conceding a power play goal.
- Jacob Markstrom made his best save of the game on the Jets’ second power play, sliding to his right to stop a Mark Scheifele one-timer, absorbing it like Benzoate Ostylezene Bicarbonate (aka. B.O.B.). Markstrom finished with 23 saves on 24 shots, which should have been enough to earn his seventh-straight win. Alas, life, much like literally everything that happens to my children isn’t fair.
- Alex Edler already held the franchise record for most points by a defenceman; on Saturday he passed Harold Snepsts for the most games played by a Canucks defenceman, though he can’t touch his record for most S’s in a last name. All that’s left is the record for most goals — he’s six behind Mattias Ohlund.
- Brian Burke made me angry during the first intermission. In the middle of a Canucks game, one that was missed by both Sven Baertschi and Troy Stecher as they recover from concussions, he crowed about physicality and intensity returning to the NHL, using clips from the Canucks game against the Tampa Bay Lightning. You know, the one in which Stecher suffered his concussion on a hit by Danick Martel for which Martel received no supplemental discipline. Then, when asked about the cost in injuries for this “more physical” hockey, Burke had the gall to say he’s “willing to pay that price,” as if he was the one at risk of a life-altering concussion and not the players on the ice.
Brian Burke says he’s “willing to pay that price” ie. willing to have more players get injured to have more physicality in the game. News flash, Burke: you don’t actually have to pay that price. The players do.— Daniel Wagner - Pass it to Bulis (@passittobulis) December 23, 2018
- Elias Pettersson had a great game, even though he was held off the scoresheet. The Canucks had 20 shot attempts when he was on the ice at 5-on-5, to just 11 for the Jets. He created opportunities for his teammates all game, but the puck luck that has gone the Canucks way of late just didn’t show up. Hitting the net would have helped — Pettersson made a great diving poke-pass to Jake Virtanen in the high slot in the third period that Virtanen ripped wide. Forcing Laurent Brossoit to make 41 instead of just 40 saves might have been the difference in the game.
- Virtanen had a great game as well, don’t get me wrong. His best sequence came in the second period, when he set up Bo Horvat for two quick chances, then chased down the puck on the backcheck to prevent a Mark Scheifele breakaway. Virtanen had a team-high nine shot attempts, five of them on goal.
- Brock Boeser needed to hit the net as well. Late in the third period, Boeser was dancing around the offensive zone, evading three Jets defenders, but he sent the great chance he created high and wide. Just three of Boeser’s seven shot attempts hit the net.
- Here’s Chiarot on Motte. I’m so frustrated that this wasn’t called, because it looks so blatant. Motte chipped the puck past Chiarot and, instead of being able to chase in after the puck and try to create some offence, he instead gets a stick in the teeth. For added poetry, the gif includes the referee just coasting by at the very end, like he was in an NHL video game and his player’s controller got disconnected.
- I initially thought the Jets’ goal came within two minutes of this non-call on Chiarot, meaning the Jets would have still been on the penalty kill instead of rushing up the ice at 5-on-5. It was two-and-a-half minutes later, though. Who knows what would have happened.
- Chris Tanev made some fantastic plays to break up Jets rushes in this game, but he misplayed the goal: Scheifele played a little give-and-go with Byfuglien and Tanev followed the puck instead of staying with Scheifele. Loui Eriksson was back to cover Byfuglien. It’s understandable, though, as there was a third player at the backdoor, and Tanev was trying to cover everyone because of the odd-man situation.
- The player that’s likely to get some extra video work because of that goal? Jake Virtanen. From centre ice, his eyes never left the puck and he stopped moving his feet. Meanwhile, Byfuglien jumped up in the play behind him, creating the odd-man situation. If Virtanen had his head on a swivel and kept skating, he could have helped defensively instead being a passive observer.
- With that, the Canucks head into the Christmas break. Merry Christmas, everyone!