Dave Lozo's Bag Skate: Inconsistent Refereeing Continues to Plague Playoffs

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Dave Lozo's Bag Skate: Inconsistent Refereeing Continues to Plague Playoffs
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NBC's Brian Engblom relayed a conversation he had with Duncan Keith during Monday night's game between the Chicago Blackhawks and St. Louis Blues about the officiating in their first-round series.

The topic of Brent Seabrook's awful hit on David Backes during Game 2 that left Seabrook suspended three games and Backes out indefinitely came up. Highlights of some questionable hits and dirty plays involving stick work away from the play were shown by NBCSN, and Engblom said he asked Keith why things became so out of control in Game 2.

"Because they weren't calling any penalties," Keith said.

Therein lies the problem every time the Stanley Cup playoffs begin.

After 1,230 regular-season games that are officiated one way, the standard of refereeing becomes something else completely during the second season.

Referees put their whistles away at certain points of games, touting a "let them play" mentality that is detrimental on a lot of levels, including the one that helped leave Backes unconscious from a filthy hit that may not have happened if referees had nipped it all in the bud earlier in the game.

Then at other times, referees call every little thing. Then at other times, the score seems to be dictating what is called and what isn't. Referees straddle a line between "let them play" and "reining it in" instead of just "calling penalties."

Jamie Sabau/Getty Images

Keith is not alone in his awareness that the officiating becomes unpredictable in the playoffs. Players know they can get away with a whole lot more when it comes to the rough stuff away from the puck or after whistles, because officials don't want to influence the outcome of games by calling more penalties.

Referees are human, but the fact they get away from protocols that were used for six months during the regular season leaves everyone—fans and players alike—frustrated by the obvious randomness of penalty calls during games.

They don't want to make a call late in a game that leads to a power play that leads to a winning goal, because for some unknown reason, referees have it in their heads they are deciding the outcome of games by making those calls, no matter how warranted those calls may be.

Of course, by not calling penalties that are penalties, referees are doing just as much to decide the fortunes of hockey teams by turning their palms up and shrugging at infractions that were called regularly during the regular season.

Doing nothing is just as influential as doing something, yet this is lost on most referees.

For all the guff officials receive during the regular season, there is a standard that just about every officiating crew uses. Everyone knows what it is, and everyone plays the game within those parameters. Sure, there are blown calls and bad nights, but that's going to happen to anyone. 

The problem for players and coaches is with that standard changing in the playoffs, it's simply not remaining in one place from puck drop to the final horn. What is and isn't a penalty becomes this moving target from shift to shift, period to period and, again, players are aware of this.

So they will look to exploit it by trying to get away with more and more, and when they do get away with more and more, it emboldens one side and angers the other. They know that if their team is down a goal or two, they can get away with more, as officials are aware of the score and are hesitant to give that winning team an added advantage by, well, doing their job and calling penalties.

That leads to the players on the team that feel like they've been wronged by unpunished cheap hits looking to exact justice of their own. Next thing you know, a hockey player is lying unconscious on the ice, while players on the other team are taunting him on national television.

Anger boiling over into dirty hits as a result of cheap shots away from the puck that go unseen and/or unpunished is just one facet of ineptitude of officials during the playoffs.

The other is the way officials are extremely conscious of calling minor infractions against teams for fear of turning the game into a power-play fest, so even when a team is worthy of 10 minor penalties in a game, they'll swallow the whistle at times.

How many games have occurred in the postseason in which one team is called for a blatant hook, trip and hold, giving the opponent two or three straight power plays, yet when a fourth or fifth blatant penalty is committed, a referee won't put his arm in the air?

Referees keep track of the amount of penalties they've called against a single team and, instead of wiping their minds clean of what they've done previously and calling penalties as they see them, they're conscious of giving one team a lot of power plays in a row, so they'll look the other way on that fourth or fifth infraction.

Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

Again, this is the heart of that silly idea referees have about not influencing the outcome of games by calling penalties, yet by not calling penalties against weaker opponents who must commit penalties to combat the superior team, they are doing a lot to influence the outcome of a game.

This notion isn't exclusive to the playoffs, as this happens at times in the regular season as well, but it is certainly heightened in the playoffs.

It's impossible to show examples of all this, as websites don't clip highlights of penalties that aren't called. But this happens routinely and is noticed by just about everyone who watches hockey as part of their jobs. 

With the Penguins trailing 2-0 to the Blue Jackets on Monday night, Columbus forward Nick Foligno was called for perhaps the softest penalty of the postseason, and it just so happened the Penguins were down two goals at the time. Marc-Andre Fleury covered a puck, despite there being no pressure, so Foligno was forced to skate hard at Fleury to draw the whistle.

Once the whistle was blown, the hard-charging Foligno jammed on the breaks and sprayed Fleury with a snow shower. He was called for unsportsmanlike conduct, and magically a Penguins team that was down two goals was gifted a power play. 

But since this is the playoffs, a dubious penalty was called on James Neal just 26 seconds later to even the playing surface and solve the problem of the first awful call. Two awful calls don't make a right, however. 

The rules change during every postseason game, depending on who is winning, who is losing or who earned the most recent power play. Everyone sees it, yet the NHL doesn't seem to have any interest in sending a memo to officials that reassures them that calling penalties that are penalties is an OK thing and actually their jobs as officials. 

Until then, the officiating inconsistencies will be a staple of the NHL playoffs for a very long time.

 

Seven Letters

(If you'd like to ask a question for the weekly mailbag, you can reach me via email at dave111177@gmail.com, fire your query at me via Twitter at @DaveLozo or leave a question in the comments section for next week.) 

Brandon Dubinsky has been really darn good in three games against the Penguins. He's held his own for the most part in his matchups with Sidney Crosby and if the Blue Jackets could've caught a break here or there, they'd be up 2-1 or 3-0 in this series, and Dubinsky would be receiving a lot more praise.

Twice in three games, he's absolutely pantsed Penguins defenseman Paul Martin—the move in Game 1 led to a Jack Johnson goal, and it nearly led to a game-tying goal in the final seconds of Game 3.

He has four points in three games, and he'll likely need to be even better if the Blue Jackets are going to come back in this series.

As good as he's been, you probably never want to mark him as a keeper in a fantasy league. You'd have to be a real dummy to make Dubinsky a keeper in a 14- or 16-team league.

No one. Wrestling is fake, in that it is muscular actors playing roles and performing choreographed movements to entertain adult men who are trapped in their 11th year of life. It's like asking, "Who won Anchorman?" No one. It's a movie and not real. Will Ferrell is not currently married to Christina Applegate. They were pretending.

If you're older than 12 and watch wrestling, no one involved is winning. 

No.

Mark Buckner/Getty Images

I googled "Barret Jackman eyes" to make sure he didn't have a degenerative eye condition of which I was not aware. I didn't want to be walked into a situation in which I would make a bunch of jokes only to learn he has a disease that would leave him blind in 10 years.

I also don't so much understand the question, either. Is he a witch like Helena Bonham Carter in Big Fish? Will I see how I will die if I look into his eyes? Or is it more like Dogma, when Jay looks into Alanis Morissette's eyes and gets all hypnotized? 

If I had to guess, which I do after all this stalling, I would say a bear. The bear would be standing near stream, waiting for a salmon to leap from the water. The bear would grab the salmon in his mighty mouth and rip it to shreds, roaring, physically dominant over the nature around him. Then I would see...

…this is dumb. I don't get the question. Thanks, though.

You are asking this before Game 3 and this will post after Game 3, so I will answer it before Game 3 and hopefully my answer won't look totally stupid because of what happens in Game 3.

Don Smith/Getty Images

I don't think this is the fall of Jonathan Quick at all. It's more the fall of the Kings as a whole. I know home ice is a big deal between these teams, but the Sharks are absolutely pummeling the Kings and it speaks volumes that a goalie of Quick's stature can't do anything to turn the tide.

Quick has allowed 12 goals, and if you said he didn't have a chance on any of them, you could make a sound argument that backs that statement. Maybe he could have squared up a little better on goals by Raffi Torres and Patrick Marleau in Game 2 and made the stop on Marc-Edouard Vlasic in Game 1, but he has been left dangling by a Kings team that looks slower in every situation.

Having said all that, I think the Kings bounce back in Los Angeles, and Quick brings them back in the series. This thing will be 2-1 heading into Game 4.

Cadbury Cream Egg is the easy answer. Most Easter candy is just chocolate in the shape of bunnies, so really, we're just talking about chocolate. Cadbury eggs are the greatest holiday-themed candy in the world. 

But take it from someone who knows—limit two per 24-hour period. That much sugary greatness will do things to you that are going to severely limit your ability to take part in an Easter egg hunt unless that hunt takes place entirely in your bathroom.

 

Bonus Section

On Monday, I finished writing the lyrics to a song about hockey fighting using the Goo Goo Dolls song "Iris" as the foundation for my parody. I have no singing voice, but Harrison Mooney of Puck Daddy and Pass it to Bulis fame can belt out a tune, so he recorded my song and now we have a piece of musical genius on par with anything done by Beethoven or Katy Perry.

Here is the song, which is titled "Punch You" and is available in record stores nowhere. Thank you and I'm sorry.

 

Dave Lozo covers the NHL for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter: @DaveLozo.

All statistics via NHL.com or ExtraSkater.com.

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