19 April, 2014


Zebra-Screwed

Over the course of an 82-game season there are going to be nights when the men in stripes don’t do right by you. You accept that — you have to. It’s the fastest game in the world, with collisions and entangled bodies and blocked views occurring on virtually every shift, and as such much mischief will be missed.

Moreover, the men who officiate our sport often went unloved as children, and skate their labor with the scars of that.

The most egregious and insufferable shortcoming with hockey’s officiating occurs when a zebra makes a judgment call, through a maze of bodies, that undoes late-game heroism. It’s a moment when an official, rather than world-class athlete(s), determines a game. We fans pay good money to see special athletes thrill us, occasionally surmounting enormous obstacle and odds to triumph. Their doing so affords us sports’ most indelible images.

Thursday night at American Airlines Arena in Dallas, in a game of conspicuous involvement — as well as lack thereof — by the officials, the Capitals’ 2-1 loss to the Stars brought about an infuriating ending, and that just seemed appropriate given the work of the officials pretty much all night long.

It was a night when Capitals’ players again had their sticks chopped in half with impunity. Meanwhile, in the middle of the Capitals’ more than commendable road effort after triumphing in St. Louis the night, referees Thursday night went whistle-happy against the visitors in a momentum-altering six minutes of the second period. Three Capitals went off with minors, forcing a fatigue-defying club onto a perpetual penalty kill. Nothing ostensibly wrong with calling a tight game (though it’s dull); it just has to be called so on both halves of the ice.

There is no denying that Alexander Ovechkin is mired in one of the worst slumps of his career — from the vantage of scoring goals. But last night he aptly demonstrated that even without lighting the lamp he can have a big and positive impact as leader for his team. He doled out big hits; he continued to effectively distribute the puck to his teammates; most impressively, when Marcus Johansson was rudely greeted in open ice (cleanly, but rudely), the captain raced in to confront the assailant and let him know all was not well. In short, Ovi did a lot of dirty work Thursday night, precisely the sort of dirty work a team needs to win a game.

None of it was dirtier than in the game’s waning seconds, with Michal Neuvirth on the Capitals’ bench and the Caps pressing for a tying score. Ovi, on another evening when perhaps he was squeezing his stick too tightly, and firing too many shots high or wide of the opposition cage, decided to do what would best help his club in this trying time: making menace in front of Andrew Raycroft, to see if he could help his team avoid defeat with his strength and work ethic rather than his AWOL scoring touch. Good for him.

That he entered Raycroft’s crease with 8 or 9 seconds to play is beyond dispute, but so, too, did Dallas defenders Stephane Robidas and Karlis Skrastins. But it was Skrastins, not Ovechkin, who barreled into Raycroft, impairing the goaltender. In a night-defining flash, the Caps in a mad scramble got the puck past Raycroft, an Atlanta-sized home crowd was hush-struck, Ovi turned to embrace his determined teammates in elation, and terrorist referee Dan O’Rourke instantly and emphatically began motioning with his arms that no late-game heroics would be allowed on this night. All Caps’ fans with a wide-angle-eye approach to the moment were denied a scintilla of celebration as O’Rourke’s judicial activism intervened immediately behind Raycroft’s cage.

The Capitals’ head coach threw a tantrum, and earned an abuse of officials penalty soon thereafter. Good for him.

“What do you want me to say that I can’t get fined for?,” he asked red-faced in the postgame. “If you take a look at the friggin call . . . Ovi doesn’t touch the guy. It cost us two points.

“I thought we outplayed them pretty well.”

If you’re gonna wipe out a game-tying goal in the waning seconds, if you’re gonna be the deciding factor in an immensely rugged and spiritedly competed hockey game, hadn’t there ought to be something approaching metaphysical certitude that in the defining moment you can’t get possibly get it wrong? Gabby alluded to precisely this point: “You better be sure” he cracked in appropriate disgust. We fans, after all, are paying good money to watch these great athletes make great and heroic plays, and that’s precisely what the Capitals did in Thursday night’s final minute.

Replays of Thursday night’s disallowed late heroics by the Caps seemed to indicate that O’Rourke may well have gotten it wrong. And if so that’s egregiously worse than missing a slash behind the play. If wrong the integrity of the evening has been compromised.

In NHL scrutiny of officiating, of course, such a play is not objectively reviewable in Toronto.

Ovechkin for his part seemed just as incensed by the call out on the ice as his coach. He seemed in his animation far more perturbed than your typical athlete on the short end of a tough call. In the visitor’s locker room he reviewed the replay and kept his ire clipped and curt.

“I just saw the replay. No comment about it. It’s unbelievable.”

Rebecca over at Japers’ Rink offers important context for this bitter ending. “It’s a call that, along with goaltender interference calls (and non-calls) has seemed to haunt this team in recent years.”



13 Comments

  1. Heather wrote:

    It was a horrible call. Frustrating to say the least. Heck, even non-hockey fans at the school I teach at greeted me this morning with a “Ovi didn’t even touch him!” Sad that those types of calls aren’t reviewable and change games.

    3 December, 2010 at 8:21 am | Permalink
  2. MadCap wrote:

    Between the time of the no-goal call and the replay, I remember thinking “Ok, I’m going to try to look at this objectively”, bracing for what I was anticipating would be a legitimate interference call. I was astonished at how definitively it was not interference. I then thought of the “Coach’s Challenge” (something similar to what the NFL does with the red flag), which I believe has been proposed but resoundingly rejected. This would have been a scenario in which a challenge and subsequent review would have worked perfectly.

    3 December, 2010 at 8:43 am | Permalink
  3. penguin pete wrote:

    i won’t lie and tell you i feel badly, but, it was a terrible call. and ovi took a road regarding officiating after the game that i often wish sid would.

    29 more days…

    3 December, 2010 at 8:57 am | Permalink
  4. Heather wrote:

    @Penguin Pete – I really think Ovi is coming into his role as Captain this year. Was happy to see him stand his ground with the refs. Obviously fruitless but nonetheless, something was said.

    3 December, 2010 at 9:10 am | Permalink
  5. Geo wrote:

    >>terrorist referee

    OK, maybe that’s not the right word to throw in there? :) I might vote for “incompetent.”

    Agree it was a lousy call — I guess now you can penalize someone for “indirectly” causing a player to interefere with his own goalie, which would be as ridiculous as it sounds. :p

    And I guess Joe B. and Locker pointed out it couldn’t be reviewed. I assume because interference is in the eye of the beholder?

    3 December, 2010 at 10:30 am | Permalink
  6. OvieTracker wrote:

    There were lots of comments after the game ended about the terrible officiating at Japers’ Rink. I got involved with one blogger regarding a tin foil hat joke, which I wondered was an offhand reference to Tin Man in The Wizard of Oz. I asked if the blogger was saying the refs had no heart, and someone else chimed in that no, the ref was more like Scarecrow because he didn’t have a brain. It was the one rare instance when the terrible game-ending call was treated with humor. Sometimes you get so angry you have to find some way to laugh it off and move on. I hope the Caps will likewise put this miserable game behind them and administer a message-sending beatdown against the Thrashers tomorrow night.

    @HEATHER: I also am impressed with how Ovie has grown into his role as team Captain. I hope his dedication and unselfish play will finally be rewarded with a glut of goals.

    3 December, 2010 at 1:54 pm | Permalink
  7. Eric wrote:

    It is sooooo appropriate that a game get called for Dallas in light of the Stars’ Cup win vs. Buffalo… who can forget Brett Hull in the crease (when the rule was just being in the crease called off the goal) when the Cup winning goal went past Hasek?

    3 December, 2010 at 3:57 pm | Permalink
  8. Bucky Katt wrote:

    @Geo- “And I guess Joe B. and Locker pointed out it couldn’t be reviewed. I assume because interference is in the eye of the beholder?”

    Which I found strange, because during the Caps vs. Canadiens game back in Feb (the Ovi vs. Gill episode), the officials had NO problem reviewing that one to wash the goal out after calling is good.

    If anyone has an explanation why one instance is reviewable and the other isn’t…I’d like to see it.

    3 December, 2010 at 4:00 pm | Permalink
  9. With thorough premeditation did I choose the pejorative “terrorist referee.” I figured someone would object. And I rather like those objections. My hope though was that most would recognize its use within the spirit of the file; which is to say, not emphatically literal. I do not believe that Mr. O’Rourke has familial ties to the Taliban. I do however wish him an UnMerry Christmas. I also like that the stink about this stinky call isn’t subsiding.

    3 December, 2010 at 6:29 pm | Permalink
  10. barb wrote:

    actually, the tin foil hat is not a reference to the wizard of oz. it’s a snide reference about conspiracy-theory crazy people wearing hats made of tin foil in order to block out “alien transmissions” either from the government or from extra-terrestrials. they don’t hear the “voices” if they wear their special hat.

    still can’t believe how rampantly obvious some of the calls and non-calls were in that game. :( and i’m not wearing a tin foil hat. i am wearing bifocals though. maybe we could get some for the refs.

    4 December, 2010 at 7:09 am | Permalink
  11. sonja wrote:

    I’m also a huge fan of Law & Order and watch too many of the re-runs for my family’s comfort. The Dallas refs remind me of an episode in which the judge was mis-behaving and was called to account by one of his fellow judges who said, “You’re not supposed to care about who wins.”

    Actually, that is the case in more and more of the games I watch when the Caps play. The refs seem to care about who wins, or somehow creating some sense of parity between the teams with penalties … that is not the way it’s supposed to work. And this stinky call is simply the most glaring example of what I see as a trend to (perhaps) create parity or (when I’m wearing my very own tinfoil hat ;) ) to turn the Caps into the bad boys as a foil for the Penguins during the MWC. When you look at the penalties they are getting, and (more importantly) what is NOT getting called on their opponents, particularly, what is not getting called when it has been committed against Ovechkin, it makes one begin to wonder.

    4 December, 2010 at 8:02 am | Permalink
  12. CapsFan1975 wrote:

    The proof’s in the pudding. When even Penguin fans are agreeing that the washed out goal was a bad call against the Caps, it truly is.

    4 December, 2010 at 10:04 am | Permalink
  13. Hittman wrote:

    Is there anything you can say that’s worse than terrorist? If so, I recommend its use regarding that call and the official who made it. Also, who gives a shnit if someone used the word terrorist? Don’t be such a wet blanket. Now if he said he hopes the ref gets cancer or AIDS, that might be cause for a raised eyebrow.

    4 December, 2010 at 2:25 pm | Permalink