As a die-hard Devils fan I love hockey as a sport, I love the NHL playoffs and think the Stanley Cup championship is the best sports championship out there, both in terms of symbolism and in terms of the two month physical, mental and emotional war it takes to get it. Yet, more and more as a sports fan these days we have to divorce our feelings for the sport and entertainment it provides for our feelings toward the entities running it. Just like with football where diehards are getting turned off by the continual what is a catch and what isn’t a catch debate (and as a Jet fan I got the short end of THAT stick twice this season), this last week of Devils games has been especially hard on me as a hockey fan.
Call me salty over the Devils’ three-game losing streak if you must, but I’m tired of watching my favorite sports and now having to hesitate celebrating a touchdown because of the review bogeyman, or celebrate a goal because it might have been offsides fifteen seconds earlier or be overturned by some other hairline infraction that gets challenged. Couple that with my bitterness over the tilted playing field we continually have played on all season thanks to the men in stripes and you have a very angry fan, and fanbase.
This whole week of officiating hell started last Friday against the Sabres. While a sloppy game to be sure, it was still a game the Devils had a 3-1 lead in and could have easily won in regulation – but after blowing the 3-1 lead it looked like Taylor Hall had struck to put the Devils back in front, intercepting a pass and scoring on a breakaway with just several minutes left, the very kind of skill play the NHL would want to promote. But…hold the phone, Buffalo challenged the goal for offsides which is a risky (or so it appeared) challenge given that the NHL tacks on a two-minute minor if you’re incorrect on an offsides challenge. Sure enough, after a semi-lengthy review it was ruled a no-goal. If you were judging it on a 50-50 scale it was probably closer to being offsides than not, but I’d hardly call it conclusive either way.
Which brings me to my main beef with these overturned TD’s and goals in both sports – does any sports league know what conclusive actually means? It means without any doubt. Both the NFL and the NHL say you need conclusive proof to overturn the call on the field. Yet neither league has held to this standard. Or if they have, they haven’t shared their technology with the rest of the world who ostensibly sees the same replays they do. The standard now seems to be if it even LOOKS like it can be reversed, reverse it so it looks like we’re serving a purpose. Perhaps there’s also a little bit of reluctance to NOT reverse an offsides given the minor penalty consequence – call that an unintended side effect of what I actually thought was a decent compromise (curbe the offsides reviews by attaching a penalty to a failed challenge).
After that Hall goal got taken off the board the Devils got sloppy and lost in overtime to a lousy Sabres team. A rough point to drop, but considering that was the only point they lost on a six-game homestand it was hard to be too upset even with the annoyance of an offsides call that doesn’t happen too often. Little did I know we were just a few nights away from deja vu. But even before that the refs decided to play three blind mice on Saturday, both missing an obvious hold on Marcus Johansson before a Caps goal in the second period, and even more embarassingly missing an extended too many men on the ice (see above graphic) when the Caps scored to make it 4-2 in the third period. If THAT could be reviewed that certainly would have met any definition of conclusive, the goal would have not only been off the board but the Devils would have had a power play at 3-2 with a chance to tie the game.
Of course, the NHL in its infinite wisdom says you can’t challenge for too many men on the ice, so coach John Hynes’ indignance during and after the game went for naught. At this point I was ready for him to go all Robbie Ftorek and start throwing a bench. So a millimeter offsides is challengeable but a clear penalty is not. A true miscarriage of justice, made more embarassing by the fact the NHL posted highlights of the goal where you can clearly see six Caps celebrating on-ice. So that’s loss number two in this string.
Amazingly enough loss number three last night was the most infuriating of all, and admittedly a game I thought we had no chance of winning beforehand against a team (the Blues) that’s been a nemesis for us in recent years. Especially with struggling backup Keith Kinkaid in net. Yet Kinkaid played well during the hockey game and the Devils not only fought back through two deficits to tie the game twice, but also an early disallowed goal on a high sticking by Brian Gibbons which was probably caused by the Blues player lifting his stick, but let’s not review that either. Why bother when you can just disallow another goal against the Devils without needing a review? So that brings our count to two chintzy disallowed goals against us, and one hideous allowed goal that should have been overturned. And that was BEFORE offsides 2.0 in the third period.
Despite everything else it didn’t occur to me to hesitate celebrating when Nico Hischier found fellow baby Devil Jesper Bratt for a sick one-timer goal that apparently gave the Devils the lead. Yet after what seemed like an inordinate delay (definitely longer than the thirty seconds supposedly allowed) the Blues finally challenged for…wait for it…OFFSIDES! What made this offsides even more galling than the Hall one was it was an offsides on Johansson, who wasn’t even on the ice when the goal was scored. Add to that the Devils lost possession in the offensive zone and changed lines so whatever offsides there ‘might’ have been obviously had nothing to do with the goal. And if Johansson was only offsides because his skate was in the air, that’s also lame. If your skate is over the line it shouldn’t matter whether it was in the air or on the ground.
Bottom line, once again there wasn’t conclusive proof to overturn it judging by the several minutes it took to actually review the goal. My rule of thumb is if you can’t find an obvious error in two minutes it’s not conclusive and let the call stand. Yet we have to ‘get it right’ despite the fact there wasn’t exactly an epidemic of offside goals being allowed before and despite the fact that other things clearly aren’t gotten right including the NHL’s own rules on how long you have to challenge a play. According to this clip on the NHL’s own website it took about a minute twenty seconds to challenge the goal.
Long story short, again the goal was disallowed, again the Devils had to settle for one point (this time losing the shootout) where they should have had two and many fans are left to wonder what the Devils did to anger both the hockey gods and the refs given the fact we frequently play by two sets of rules – our opponents get to play 1990’s clutch and grab hockey while we’re graded on the 2006 call everything and then some curve. Are we paying the piper for winning the Nico lottery? Someone tell me, because I’m just wondering when I can watch the Devils again and not see the officials or the NHL offices in NY stick their beak in the middle of entertaining hockey.