After the Canucks lost to the Montreal Canadiens on Saturday night – their 3rd loss in the first 5 games of their 7-game homestand – Henrik Sedin had this to say:
“There are going to be mistakes out there,” said the Canucks captain. “In the offensive zone, you hold guys a little bit more and clutch and grab a little bit more than you used to do. As long as it’s fair and they call it the same way, it’s not a problem. This might be the only sport where rules change throughout the season depending where you are and what game you’re playing.”
It’s quite a statement from the former Art Ross Trophy winner and captain of one of the top teams (at least by overall record, if not by recent play) in the NHL.
It’s also very true.
The NHL is the only league I know in which the standard of what constitutes a penalty is different in the first period than in the third period. It’s also different during the regular season and in the playoffs. It’s the only league I know that constantly implements new rules to meet their agenda du jour, but doesn’t consistently apply that ones that already exist.
Against Winnipeg on Thursday, Ryan Kesler was mugged, wrestled and punched late in the game and somehow came out of it with the only penalty on the play and the Jets came out of it with a powerplay. In that same game, Kevin Bieksa got a high-stick in the face and drew blood, but no call. Against the Habs, Alex Edler and Max Pacioretty took turns cross-checking each other in the back while the referee watched on and and filled his face with popcorn. Every game, the Sedins seem to increasingly get hacked and whacked more than the mole at Chuck E. Cheese.
All over town, talk has been about the Sedins not scoring. And while they should bear their fair share of blame for this, you also have to admit it’s far harder to score when you have one – maybe more – other hockey players draped all over you.
You don’t have to be an Andy Sutton-like expert to realize that obstruction has crept back into the NHL. Shortly after the Bruins game on January 7, I talked about how they play the way they do and force the officials to call penalties on them. Well, every team has clued in on this – yes, the Canucks included – and are employing the same tactic. There is so much hooking and holding and such occurring every game, and whether it’s by design to slow the game down or ensure that teams can’t enjoy 11 powerplay opportunities in 1 game, the officials have stopped calling most of them.
- Speaking of that Bruins game, remember the Canucks had 11 powerplay opportunities, scored on 4 of them, and won the game 4-3? To that point of the season – 42 games in – they averaged 4 powerplay opportunities per game. In the 27 games that followed, they’ve averaged less than 3 powerplay opportunities (2.63) per game .
- Now, before you scream conpsiracy, the Canucks gave up an average of 4 powerplay opportunities against per game up until that Boston game. Since then, they’ve given up less than 3 powerplay opportunities against (2.85) per game.
- League-wide, from the start of the season to January 7, officials handed out an average of 23.59 penalty minutes per game, and teams combined for 7.27 powerplay opportunities and 1.26 powerplay goals per game. Since January 7, these averages have gone down significantly: penalty minutes are down 12.60% (20.62 PIM/game), powerplay opportunities are down almost 20% (5.82 powerplay opportunities per game), and powerplay goals are down over 19% (1.02 PPG/game).
- With less powerplay opportunities per game, it’s not surprising that the Canucks are scoring less with the man-advantage. Up until the Boston game, they averaged almost a powerplay goal per game (0.98); since then, they’re averaging a powerplay goal every 3 games (0.30 PPG/game).
- Stating the obvious here, but as a result, the Canucks’ overall goal production has dipped as well. The Canucks averaged 3.26 goals per game in the first 42 games of the season; they’ve averaged 2.63 goals in the 27 games since. Also, the Canucks outscored their opponents by almost a full goal per game (3.26 – 2.36) in the first 42 games of the season, but only by a minimal margin (2.63 – 2.44) in the 27 games since.
- Within those same date ranges, league-wide scoring has also gone down 5.72% – from an average of 5.57 goals per game from the start of the season to January 7 to 5.25 goals per game after.
- If we were looking for positives amidst the sky falling and all, simple math says the Canucks are actually producing a bit more on even-strength – 2.21 ESG/game up until the Boston game and 2.26 ESG/game after.
Now, this isn’t to say the Canucks have played well enough recently. They obviously haven’t, and in some games, perhaps didn’t earn themselves any calls. But it’s also no secret the Canucks rely on a good powerplay to be successful. (We all know their lack of success on it was a major contributor in their Stanley Cup Finals loss to the Bruins.) Whether or not you think there is real merit to what Henrik said, it’s easy to see why the lack of calls – and hence, powerplay opportunities – are a source of frustration for this team and its fans.
With respect to the officiating, we know which direction the league is trending. The next question now is, can the Canucks fight through this and adapt over the next 13 games and throughout the playoffs?