So, what I know will come as a shock to many, this past week, the Washington Capitals became the first team to clinch a playoff spot. Now some skeptics will say, “oh, well that’s not a surprise, the Capitals play in the weakest division in Hockey!”
Okay, fair enough. The Caps are 15-3-0 against the Southeast division. Even though they have played more games against Southeast division opponents, they have lost fewer games to the Southeast division than any other team in the Eastern Conference. Pittsburgh is 8-4-2 vs. the Southeast. New Jersey is 12-5-0 and Buffalo is 7-6-1.
Now granted, some of those Southeast Division losses for Pittsburgh, New Jersey and Buffalo came at the hands of the Washington Capitals themselves, so let’s see how Washington stacks up against the other Eastern Divisions.
Washington is 10-4-3 versus the Northeast Division. That means 23 of Washington’s 101 points have come at the hands of Northeastern opponents. Buffalo, who currently leads the Northeast Division with 82 total points, has only garnered 22 points against their divisional opponents.
Washington is 12-3-3 versus the Atlantic Division. There are no teams in the Atlantic division that have more wins than Washington’s 12. Pittsburgh is 12-7-1 versus their own division; New Jersey (ranked second in the ATL) is 12-7-1 also, and Philadelphia (3rd) is 12-6-1. The Capitals 27 points off the Atlantic division are more than any other team in that division.
Now the Caps’ 33-point lead in their division is what clinched their playoff spot, but they also have a 14-point lead over the entire Eastern Conference. The top three teams in the Atlantic Conference are separated by 9-points, and the top four of the Northeast division are separated by 10.
Washington also has a 5-point lead over the rest of the league, so maybe the critics might want to consider that before chalking the Caps up as a product of a weak division. 68 of Washington’s 101 points have come at the hands of their other non-divisional opponents.
So, moving on, let’s talk about Alex Ovechkin’s “game misconduct” penalty from yesterday and possible multi-game suspension. Let me start off by saying the refs were right to call a penalty. Most everyone believes that “boarding” was the right call. If you don’t see that as a penalty, maybe you shouldn’t join this argument because you judgment is clearly biased.
Here’s the official NHL rule on Boarding 42.1 “A boarding penalty shall be imposed on any player or goalkeeper who checks an opponent in such a manner that causes the opponent to be thrown violently in the boards. The severity of the penalty, based upon the degree of violence of the impact with the boards, shall be at the discretion of the Referee.”
Now, watching the replay, you can clearly see Ovechkin shove Campbell as they both went to fly around the back of the net. Campbell was already low, and the hit was ill-timed, but if you watch the replay, and are honest with yourself, boarding, by definition, is the right call; same as an unintentional high-stick, the outcome determines the penalty, not the player’s intent.
…but wait, there’s more; 42.3 of the NHL rules “Major Penalty – The Referee, at his discretion, may assess a major penalty, based on the degree of violence of the impact with the boards, to a player or goalkeeper guilty of boarding an opponent.” See, it doesn’t refer to the “intent to injure” and leaves it at the discretion of the referees. Campbell did hit the boards pretty hard and head-first.
Very few rules refer to “the intent” of a player; this is usually handled by the referee’s discretion. An unintentional high-stick (when you “accidentally” hit an opponent in the head or face with your stick) is a minor penalty. If you hit an opponent hard enough to draw blood, even if you didn’t intend to hit him, it’s an automatic “double-minor” (back-to-back minor penalties of two minutes each served one after the other by the offending player).
Now, let’s consider how boarding can be called. If a player knocks down another player close enough to the boards that the other player goes full speed into the lower-boards, that’s the definition of a minor penalty. The other degrees are not as clearly defined.
If the ref feels it’s unintentional, he may, at his discretion, leave it as a minor penalty. If the other player hits the boards with a great degree of force, but it still seems “unintentional” the ref can call it a double minor. If it seems that the player intentionally knocked the other player down, and rode him hard into the lower boards, the ref can call that a major penalty.
In this case, Alex did knock him down, and both players went hard to the boards. At full speed (remember, the refs can’t see all the different camera angles we can, and they can only see it at full speed) it looks like the definition of a major penalty.
Now here’s the rub; Section 42.5 “Game Misconduct Penalty – When a major penalty is imposed under this rule for a foul resulting in an injury to the face or head of an opponent, a game misconduct shall be imposed.” Campbell (the player knocked down by Ovechkin) did not return to the game. It sucks, but it’s in the rules; Campbell was injured (or at least reported he was) so by the rules, Game Misconduct is automatic.
Now, here’s the kicker; Section 42.6 “Any player or goalkeeper who incurs a total of two (2) game misconducts under Rule 42 and/or Rule 44, in either Regular season or Play-offs, shall be suspended automatically for the next game of his team. For each subsequent game misconduct penalty the automatic suspension shall be increased by one game.”
This will be Ovechkin’s third Game Misconduct of the year. By rule he should receive a mandatory two game suspension.
I know; Matt Cooke (of Pittsburgh) throws an elbow into Marc Savard (of Boston), hard enough to knock Savard out for the season (Savard was carried out on a stretcher) and not only is he not penalized in the game, but he isn’t even chastised by the league. Meanwhile, Ovechkin, who didn’t intend to hurt Campbell, was not only thrown out of the game, but will most likely receive a (at least) two-game suspension.
The league office needs to review this. They need to come out and say that the penalty should have been ruled a double-minor instead of a major penalty. They need to over-rule the game-misconduct and waive the suspension. While the refs did not have the luxury of multi-angle, slow motion replay; the league office does.
I don’t think it’ll happen. The league has tried very hard to paint Ovechkin as nothing more than a “goon.”His previous Game Misconducts were “trumped up” calls. Watch the replays of those hits. Neither of them were as bad as anything done by Matt Cooke.
Last season, Matt Cooke played for the Washington Capitals, and his team-mate Donald Brashear was suspended for five games during the playoffs for a similar hit (though Donald didn’t throw an elbow). The league said it was Brashear’s “obvious intent to injure” that resulted in the suspension, but the player hit by Brashear didn’t even leave the game (certainly not on a stretcher like Savard did).
So, what’s the league to do? No matter what they do, someone’s not gonna be happy. If they suspend Ovechkin, fans nationwide are going to be up in arms about suspending the two-time MVP for two or more games while letting Matt Cooke, a relative nobody skate away scot-free.
If they don’t suspend him, fans of other teams nationwide are going to scream that Ovechkin is getting superstar treatment. What I’m going to say next is probably going to surprise everyone, including my wife.
To hell with it; suspend him. It’s in keeping with what the league wants to do anyway, and I really don’t want to hear it from every other fan of every other team. The Caps were down 3-0 to Chicago (the third best team in the league) and they came back to win 4-3 without him.
The Caps are a lock for the playoffs anyway, and they’ve proven they can win without him. So instead of six 20+ goal-scorers, they’ll have five. Ovechkin serves his time, comes back to play, and nobody can say a damn thing.
I don’t agree with a suspension, but if the league doesn’t suspend him, then people will howl about how the Caps are getting preferential treatment and it will tarnish a possible Stanley Cup win. We fans know that the suspension is a crock, but do you really want to hear it from the rest of the league? The ignorami who will say “well of course the Caps won because the league loves Ovechkin?”
Yeah, me neither. Leave that kind of stuff for Pittsburgh. The Caps can win in spite of the bad calls, and even in spite of any suspension the league feels fit to hand out to Ovechkin. Teams still have to worry about Backstrom, Semin, Knuble, Laich, and Green. That should be enough to keep ‘em busy.