Thursday, March 18, 2010

Get those refs some glasses!

Tonight's game against the Anaheim Ducks was so disheartening I barely know where to begin, but - oh wait, yes, I know exactly where.

Blackhawks fans could be forgiven if they were to think that all the other teams were out to get them, after the last two games. On Sunday, in the Blackhawks vs. Washington Capitals game, Alex Ovechkin (Caps) purposely slammed into Brian Campbell (Hawks) behind the goal. This was no simple checking manuever; it was Ovechkin's third misconduct of the season. But more than that, he cost Campbell the rest of the season, as
Campbell suffered a broken clavicle and cracked ribs from the hit. Ovechkin seems shocked at the penalty that the NHL handed down - a two-game suspension without pay - claiming that he "just pushed him".

And while the penalty on Ovechkin was pretty light by a lot of people's standards, it's about time that the NHL started cracking down and penalizing players for fighting, and especially for premeditated actions that lead to injuries.

The Blackhawks higher-profile players have been getting some interviews lately on ESPN and other sources, and they've stated a need for more player responsibility for those kinds of plays.

The Olympics showed us, after all, that hockey need not be viewed as "violent" - that is, every game doesn't require players to end up fisticuffs at some point in the play. Nor is there any valid reason for blatant, obvious attempts at hurting another player. (Although one can easily recall the elbow-to-throat maneuver in - which was it, the Russia/Czech game?)

Anyway, back on focus: the game at Anaheim tonight was just plain ugly, and fans on either side of the puck could certainly wonder at just how much the refs favored the Ducks, especially after the horrible move in the second period by James Wisniewski.

Wisniewski - who played for the Blackhawks from 2005-09 - skated across the ice to Blackhawk Brent Seabrook, and knocked him in the face. Seabrook didn't have a chance to see it coming, and unbelievably, the obvious-intent move was only ruled as "charging", with a two-minute penalty. You can be sure that the NHL - which seems to be paying a lot more attention to head injuries these days - will take a good look at that one.

On another bad call (or rather, lack of a call) came late in the third period, when Anaheim player Corey Perry gave a blatant shove to Hawks defenseman Brent Sopel. It was clear that Perry's action caught Sopel by surprise as he sprawled to the ice, but the refs didn't blow the whistle on it, apparently ignoring the move as players rushed to defend their teammate, and Saku Koivu managed to pop in a goal (bringing the score to 2-3, Anaheim) against replacement goalie Corey Crawford.

Is it just me, or as we (and by "we" I mean all the teams in the NHL, not just my own favorite) get closer to the end of the season - and make no mistake about it, the hockey season is long - do the refs just start getting sloppy? Maybe they're just ready for the summer break. But I've been watching a lot of hockey lately, not just the Hawks, and there's plenty of bad calls out there.

The Ducks are desperate to make the playoffs. They'd pretty much have to sweep the entire end of their season to do so, however, and if tonight's game was any indication, the end of this season could be pretty ugly, indeed.

On the bright side, I saw two positive things in tonight's game:

1. The Blackhawks had a good second period. Ok, the third wasn't so hot, but unlike a lot of games lately, where they play the first and third periods, and who know where they are in the second, they seemed there for the whole game tonight.

2. Defense was looking better than usual this game. Maybe it's because they're missing a few players and things are shook up a little. Losses aren't always the fault of the goalie.

And speaking of goalies, Crawford wasn't horrible tonight, but he wasn't great, either. He was too far out of the goal on one score, and at the end of the game, he probably got distracted by the Perry/Sopel meleƩ unfolding in front of him, causing the 3rd Ducks point. I can't even begin to explain the 4th goal, but my opinion about the whole 6-5/"empty net" strategy is it just invites the other team to score more on you.

Few things in hockey seem sadder than a point being scored into an empty net, whether or not the team is already losing.

The Blackhawks have tremendous skill and depth. They need to focus on a few things before they let the Central Division title slip away. They should have it cinched up already, but we're coming down to the final weeks of the regular season, and it's going to be a battle to the finish.

First, they need to stay focused for the whole game. Watching them "pull a Cubs move" - that is, get complacent with a big lead up front and then blow it - has been a repeat offense this season.

Second, stay tight on defense and help the goalie out. It isn't always 100% the goalie's fault that the goals went in. (Yeah, even when Huet is in goal.) There are lots of teams out there hungry to make the playoffs, and who'll play as dirty and unfairly as the refs will let them get away with.

And third - as proud as we are that you won those medals, guys - stop showing off the medals themselves, and start showing us the skills that got you onto the Olympic teams to begin with. I know that's probably something the marketing office is making you do, but it's been a few weeks already - let's focus on the games ahead, not those behind.

The gold medal would've been awesome, but what we really want is the Stanley Cup.