Sunday, February 14, 2010

Game 63/Chicago: My Take

Buckle up, kids, it's going to get a little bumpy.

The Columbus Blue Jackets played a tough, gutty and not altogether consistent game against the Chicago Blackhawks.  They took an early lead, gave it up, came back to tie it and then lost in the shootout to make it 5-4 Chicago.  Chalk up the loser point for the Boys in Union Blue.

Jackets goals came from Kristian Huselius, Raffi Torres, Rick Nash and Fedor Tyutin.  Kris Russell was +3 on the night, while Antoine Vermette and Raffi Torres were +2.  The Jackets weren't perfect, and they went into their shell here and there, and Mathieu Garon clearly was not in the zone (but the Hawks put 37 shots on goal, giving him a not-horrendous .891 GAA).  And the Blackhawks are good - they're the second best team in the Western Conference right now.

Now, the gripes.
TROY BROUWER IS NOT A HERO

Take a moment, watch this brief video, and come right back.



Why did I show that to you? Because it was a clean hit. Patrick Kane is a bit of a showboater, and it didn't look like his head was entirely up, and Stralman issued a reminder to him that people can get hurt in professional hockey. In fact, I gather that Kane dinged his knee.

Brouwer came to Kane's defense. This, as I understand it, is a violation of the NHL's goofball instigator rule:
47.11 Instigator - An instigator of an altercation shall be a player or goalkeeper who by his actions or demeanor demonstrates any/some of the following criteria: distance traveled; gloves off first; first punch thrown; menacing attitude or posture; verbal instigation or threats; conduct in retaliation to a prior game (or season) incident; obvious retribution for a previous incident in the game or season.

A player or goalkeeper who is deemed to be the instigator of an altercation shall be assessed an instigating minor penalty, a major penalty for fighting and a ten-minute misconduct.
If the same player or goalkeeper is deemed to be the instigator of a second altercation in the same game, he shall be assessed an instigating minor penalty, a major penalty for fighting and a game misconduct.

When a player or goalkeeper receives his third instigator penalty in one Regular season, he is automatically given a game misconduct following that third violation.
A player or goalkeeper who is deemed to be both the instigator and aggressor of an altercation shall be assessed an instigating minor penalty, a major penalty for fighting, a ten-minute misconduct (instigator) and a game misconduct penalty (aggressor).

47.12 Instigator in Final Five Minutes of Regulation Time (or Anytime in Overtime) - A player or goalkeeper who is deemed to be the instigator of an altercation in the final five (5) minutes of regulation time or at any time in overtime shall be assessed an instigator minor penalty, a major penalty for fighting, and a game misconduct penalty (see 47.22).
Indeed, Brouwer was tagged with an instigator foul. I've already tipped my hand on this a few times, but let's make sure everyone is clear. Tampa Bay coach Rick Tocchet wants the instigator rule gone, and I agree with his logic:
Tocchet said the rule protects players who take cheap shots knowing retaliation will be punished.

"Players out there know nothing can happen to them," Tocchet said. "Those are the guys who increase the percentage of head shots. I'd like to see the players control that. You have somebody out of control, then the player is going to have to pay the price."

...

"Guys will be more accountable," he said. "A guy would definitely think twice about maybe doing something if you know there's a guy on the other team who might beat him up for it."
That being said, the rules are the rules.  And Stralman did not take a cheap shot, further watering down the instigator justification.  Then - get this - after Brouwer returned to play only to drop the shootout winner past Mathieu Garon, jackasses offer this type of postgame commentary:
Hahahaha Brouwer gets the last laugh!
I can't say I'm impressed.  Kane is stupid enough to cross the middle, Stralman does his professional job as a defenseman with a clean hit, and Brouwer is lauded for breaking the rules?  (Never mind the sore winner component, which I'll admit that I've been guilty of on occasion.)  Ah well...Brouwer's no principled hero.  But that brings me to the next point, something that's been building for a while.

THE OLYMPICS HAVE SCREWED UP THIS NHL SEASON

I'm going to come out and say it.  The Olympics, from the NHL's perspective, are one giant pain in the butt.  I've already documented how the compressed NHL schedule has screwed up the Blue Jackets' youth movement - and now I think it's safe to say had a part in costing Ken Hitchcock his coaching job.

For the last week, the Olympian players have slowly been backing off of their responsibilities to their NHL teams to avoid injury and prepare for the Olympics.  For the Blue Jackets, we first encountered this en masse from San Jose.  I'm not alone in this - ask Jan Hejda:
"I don't want to say something stupid, but in the second period I was thinking, 'Why are they playing like this?' " said Hejda, who will represent the Czech Republic. "They weren't as dangerous as they usually are. Maybe it's because they are going to the Olympics and didn't want to get hurt.

"This is not normal. They were different."
I am a red-blooded American and appreciate everyone whose nationalistic fervor builds every four years.  I want to see Team USA surprise us all and get a gold medal.  But these guys are under contract to their teams and have an obligation to the people who buy their tickets to bring their A games every game.  Doesn't matter if they're resting up for the playoffs or playing out the string or waiting to catch the flight to Vancouver.  They are NHL athletes and need to play their best in NHL games.

Lastly, I'll bring the Brouwer point back in.  Somehow, the media is making Brouwer out to be a hero for defending Kane because Kane was an Olympian.  (And stop the presses, Kane may have dinged his knee because he couldn't keep his head up!)  Think I'm kidding?  Look at this:
Down 4-3 heading into a wild, chippy, end-to-end third period, the Blue Jackets pulled even on the second of a double-minor penalty assessed to Brouwer. Brouwer jumped to the defense of Kane, a U.S. Olympian [emphasis added], after Kane was leveled on a hip check by Columbus defenseman Anton Stralman that resulted in Kane and Stralman's right knees slamming into each other. While Kane lay on the ice, Brouwer instigated a fight with Stralman.
That bad, bad, mean Stralman...laying a clean hit on a lazy soon-to-be Olympic athlete!  What was Stralman supposed to do, back off?  Lead a police procession for Kane to the goal?  Roll out a red carpet?

Whatever.  I like the Olympics, but I can't wait for them to be over and the chase for the Stanley Cup to get back underway.



SHOOTOUTS SUCK

They are cute gimmicks for All-Star Weekend, but they're no way to determine who is ranked where in the standings.

2 comments:

  1. I totally am with you about the shootouts... they do suck. I wish we'd go back to overtime... pure stamina and skill wins the game (or an occasional fluke). I too agree that even if you're in the Olympics you should still play... so what? Aside from representing your country what makes those games really different than playing for your team and your fans every night? Personally I think the Stanley Cup is the holy grail of hockey... not an olympic gold medal....

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  2. Gold medal...Stanley Cup...yow, I'm not sure I'd put one over the other. But if you listened to the media and players (through the media filter), you'd think that the Cup is a few steps behind the Gold. Clearly, that's not the case.

    Honestly, this is the conundrum that happens when you let professionals compete in the Olympics. The players haven't been focussed on their NHL jobs like they should have. And it's not just recently...it's a whole season thing. Ask Steve Mason, whose early season dive likely was aided by the pressure of "trying out" to be one of the three Team Canada goalies.

    That the Olympians have pretty much been ratcheting it back for the last week or so, however, is inexcusable.

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