Where’s the imaginary line in hockey?

Let’s be honest, tonight’s 4-1 Devil loss in Pittsburgh isn’t much worth recapping. Yeah the game was 1-1 early in the third period until the roof fell in with three goals against, but about all I want to talk about is one contreversial play that happened early in the third period with the Devils trailing 1-0. The refs on the ice called a double-minor high stick penalty on Patrik Elias, even saying number 26 but Petr Sykora rushed to the box before anyone knew what happened. Why? It wasn’t a honest mistake, that’s for sure. Sykora knows he doesn’t kill penalties and Elias does so it would be more beneficial to the team to have him serve the penalty.

None of the refs caught that little…um, bit of gamesmanship (since the penalty happened with both Elias and Sykora in the vicinity of the play), which could well have changed the game since moments later Elias ironically scored a shorthanded goal to tie it up, helped out by a hook that started the play and really had the Penguins up in arms. Especially since they did notice that Sykora had gone to the box and lost a faceoff because they were trying to alert the refs about the wrong player being in the box. Perhaps karma caught up with us since the Pens did wind up getting the lead back on that power play, then added two more for good measure off what looked like a tiring Johan Hedberg as our hideous offense again petered out and offered no support other than the one ill-gotten goal.

Granted, I’m not in the mood to hear crying from the Penguins. More than anyone in this league they catch breaks from the refs, and arguably they caught a break on both our penalty calls in the first period (one of which resulted in a power play goal from Jordan Staal to open the scoring). That said, I’m a little uneasy about this particular type of gamesmanship. You could argue it’s really no different than diving or embellishing to draw a penalty, which I’m not too keen on either, but to me, this is the kind of stuff we – and when I say we I mean Devils fans – always got on Sean Avery for. Goading players into dropping the gloves to get an instigator, or standing in front of Martin Brodeur and waving his stick to provide a distraction – which I actually thought was creative lol, and hey if he wants to risk bodily harm with a shot that hits him while he can’t look or protect himself well buona fortuna, be my guest.

I seem to be in the minority in this one, in that Devils fans got a chuckle out of what happened while I cringed. Granted, there are bigger fish to fry considering the Devils now only have one regulation win in their first six games and are going on a three-game Western trip this week without two of their top three centers and their number one goalie. Still, it wouldn’t surprise me if someone (re: Lou Lamoriello) had a talk with Sykora after that, and to his credit he did apologize to the refs later. Of course the refs weren’t thrilled and it wouldn’t surprise me if we got ‘taxed’ a few breaks against us in subsequent games because of it.

As well-meaning as doing something to win a game is, sometimes there is a line you don’t cross. Obviously when there’s a bench minor you can pick whoever you want to serve the penalty but I’ve literally never heard of a guy intentionally running to the box to serve a penalty for someone else. It’s probably happened before but it’s very hard to do, cause usually who the penalty’s on is obvious and someone’ll catch that kind of chicanery. I’m not a fan of it, then again I’m not a fan of most types of gamesmanship.

About Derek Felix

Derek Felix is sports blogger whose previous experience included separate stints at ESPN as a stat researcher for NHL and WNBA telecasts. The Staten Island native also interned for or hockey historian Stan Fischler and worked behind the scenes for MSG as a production assistant on New Jersey Devil telecasts. An avid New York sports fan who enjoys covering events, writing, concerts, movies and the outdoors, Derek has covered consecutive Staten Island Yankees NY Penn League championships in '05 and '06. He also scored Berkeley Carroll high school basketball games from '06-14 and provided an outlet for the Park Slope school's student athletes. Hitting Back gives them the publicity they deserve. In his free time, he also attends Ranger games and is a loyal St. John's alum with a sports management degree. The Battle Of New York administrator and chief editor can be followed below on Twitter and Facebook.
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