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Tuesday, April 5, 2011
Rant answers: Goalie interference calls, Flyers fans in panic, Leafs' bright future

By Pierre LeBrun

Holy rants, Batman! You all had a lot to get off your chest. An all-time record: 600-plus posts for this week's blog!

The most popular theme came from Red Wings fans, who were complaining about the goalie interference call. In this season's last installment of the Rant of The Week blog, let's take a look at a few I picked out:

Shootout
Some fans are not fond of the "regulation-plus-overtime wins" versus "shootout wins" tiebreaker rules.

awsears25: Goalie interference calls are getting out of control. Nearly every time Tomas Holmstrom is screening the goalie and a goal is scored, it is called back for "goalie interference" even if Homer is out of the crease, has his position set and the goalie runs into him. Then, you get the calls like in the Toronto vs. Detroit game when Lupul falls on Howard and swipes the puck in and the goal counted. To quote Ken Daniels, the refs are "consistently inconsistent." It seems like the real penalty is "No. 96 in front of the goal" when there is no interference.

prashanthiyer: Problem with officiating, Pierre. Last couple of games for the Red Wings have brought back to the surface the goaltender interference call that so often plagues Tomas Holmstrom and the Red Wings. In the Nashville game, the Wings had a goal disallowed despite the fact that Homer's skates were outside of the crease and Pekka Rinne had space to make a goalie move. However, because Rinne embellished a slight bit of contact with Homer, the ref called a penalty and waved off the goal.

Same kind of deal on Sunday against Minnesota when Justin Abdelkader got pushed into the net but managed to get out of the net and well outside of the crease before the puck went in, but they still called goalie interference. It seems that if the call is in question at all, the refs will disallow the goal. Has there been any propositions to have the disallowing of a goal by goaltender interference become a reviewable play?

My take: Thank you, awsears25 and Prashanthiyer (one of my favorite readers on the site). I was thinking the same thing Saturday afternoon when that goal was waived off. Now, one replay did seem to show Holmstrom perhaps slightly elbowing Rinne, but that's not the point. Big picture, if I were a Wings fan, I would fear having good goals disallowed come playoff time because of Holmstrom's reputation with the men in stripes.

As for adding this type of play to the list of things the Toronto war room can review, I relayed your question to a league source who responded with a "no." He said the idea has actually been discussed by GMs; at the end of the day, the general feeling is there are two referees on the ice and the message to Holmstrom and any other attacking player is to be careful around the crease.

Anark E: As a Kings fan in this the tightest of playoff races, I think the tiebreaker sucks. Why should a team that has dominated in the shootout be penalized? A win is a win! A much better (and more relevant) tiebreaker would be (1) record against tied teams, (2) goals for against tied teams, and then (3) in light of the concussion/injury issue in the league, fewest penalty minutes against tied teams. A shootout win is a positive thing and shouldn't count as a negative.

My take: I figured some fans would be aggravated by this new rule. Personally, I love it. The reason for the new rule is that GMs, the caretakers of the game, recognized the shootout is not a traditional part of the game. It's a trick/skill play for the fans. And that's fine; after all, it's an entertainment business. But when it comes to the tiebreaker rule, I think it's brilliant to have elevated teams that won in regulation/overtime over those that won in the shootout. You are compensating teams that won in a more traditional manner.

phillyisbetterthanpitt: My rant: Shootouts. I understand that people don't want a game to end in a tie but look at the top teams in every division. Not one team has a winning record in shootouts. You have no way of convincing me that a shootout can distinguish who was the "better team that day." The top teams in the East combine for a plus/minus of minus-10 in shootouts. Going to a 5-point system almost becomes a must for the near future.

My take: Amen.

dhiggs2: As a Preds fan, I'm just wondering how we manage to give up goals every game (lately, at least) deep in the 3rd period? Gave Vancouver the game in the 3rd last Tuesday, allowed Colorado to almost get 3 unanswered goals on Thursday, and then of course the Detroit game on Saturday. How are they going to get that turned around before the playoffs?

My take: It's a legitimate concern. A few weeks ago, the Preds were up 5-1 midway through the third period and held on for dear life for a one-goal win over Anaheim. Coach Barry Trotz ripped his players after the game. I spoke with him the next morning and he said his message to his players was to remember the lessons from Chicago last spring, when Patrick Kane scored short-handed with 13.6 seconds left to force overtime in Game 5. If Martin Erat didn't send a blind pass into the slot seconds before that in the offensive zone, the Preds would have gone up 3-2 in the series, and who knows what happens. Trotz's concern is whether or not his group has learned from that and has realized what it takes to close out a game. We'll find out over the next few weeks.

PeterMikl: I have to rant about the playoff matchups. Almost every year we see a team get on a hot streak and sneak into the playoffs as the 7 or 8 seed. The 1 or 2 seed that has been playing well all year has to then play one of the hottest teams in the league, when they should have the benefit of an easier matchup.

I suggest that the No. 1 seed in each conference gets to select who they play in the first round. Then the #2 seed picks, and then the #3. You could televise it on the day after the last regular-season game. Each playoff team would send a representative. You could make the team representative walk up to the microphone and declare who they were picking to play in the first round. ... It might even generate some new rivalries. You could even include the NHL draft lottery as part of the telecast. The show would certainly be a lot more entertaining than the NBA draft lottery and would definitely pull in some viewers. ... Why can't the NHL do something intriguing like this? And don't tell me logistics or some other baloney because these days nobody knows the matchups until the end of the season anyway. ... This must happen.

My take: Interesting concept, my friend, especially the live draft part. But I don't think it would fly. I've actually discussed something similar over the years with a few coaches and GMs, asking them whether they'd like to be able to choose their opposition. All of them said no thanks. The reason: By picking a certain team, you're telling the world you believe they're the easiest matchup, and that's genuine bulletin-board material for the lower-ranked team. Talk about motivation for the team you picked; nothing like attacking a hockey player's pride to get him going. You wouldn't see any top-ranked team want any part in that scenario.

Zacchariah: LeBrun, you told me to chill out when i ranted about my favorite team, the Flyers. Now i know i'm not a hockey analyst like yourself but it doesn't take a professional to understand that this is a time of panic in Philadelphia. 6 wins in the last 18 games? That's pathetic and yeah there might be injuries but the Flyers are the deepest team in the NHL. They should be able to win more than 6 in the last 18 games. I was once confident that the Flyers would breeze through the playoffs and back into the Stanley Cup finals, but that confidence is long gone and i'm not so sure that the Flyers will even make it out of the first round.

Danny Briere
Danny Briere and the Flyers are 3-3-4 in their past 10 games.

My take: Yes, I told you to chill out in mid-March. Now it's April. And now I'd be concerned if I were a Flyers fan. A month is too long to be playing this way. Bad habits have crept into their game. Their confidence is not the same. I will feel a lot better if Chris Pronger comes back and is the Chris Pronger of old. He's one of the great playoff warriors of this era.

One of the things that concerns me right now is their inconsistency, not just from game to game but also from period to period and shift to shift. They can look like two different teams in the same game. They need a strong week to close out the regular season and regain some mojo.

"It's been the same problem now for the past month," Flyers center Danny Briere told me last weekend. "It seems we play a good game or two and then we have a bad one, or two bad ones. ... I'm hoping that guys have realized the playoffs are around the corner.

"You have to get ready for the playoffs as a player and make sure you're ready to go when the playoffs start. We did it last year. I think we gained a lot of experience, we really showed up in the playoffs last year. I'm hoping we'll be able to do that same thing this year."

theglovesd: As a Ducks fan, looking back on the 2 no goal calls in the last 5 or so minutes of the Sunday night game against Dallas, I can't help but wonder what our team did to spite the hockey gods. While looking at the replay of each, they each had some merit to them but COME ON! A hand pass call when your player knocks a puck down, is taken out by the defense and then the puck gets thrown into the back of the net by an eager Bobby Ryan? A goalie interference call by Saku Koivu without a penalty attached to it (because of how minor it was)?

At one point in the game, Dallas had pretty much their entire side on the ice and that didn't merit a penalty call, but Koivu stumbling into the goalie pad of Lehtonen merited a non-goal? The Stars can play 8-5 hockey but the fact that Corey Perry knocked down a puck with his hand and couldn't quite touch it with his skate before Bobby Ryan shelved it causes the Ducks to lose and go yet another day without clinching a playoff berth? What have we done to forsake you, hockey gods?!

My take: I watched that game and, yes, it's pretty rare to have two goals disallowed late in the game like that. Gut-wrenching for Ducks fans, to be sure, given all that's on the line. But having also looked at both replays, I think the on-ice officials nailed it both times. Koivu clearly interfered with Kari Lehtonen (no love between countrymen, eh?) and, later on, Perry definitely gloved the puck before Ryan got a hold of it to score what looked like the tying goal. Textbook hand pass. Heart-breaking, yes, but nevertheless both were the correct calls.

BlackhawksFan22: I'm seriously questioning the character of the Blackhawks after Sunday night's 2-0 loss. How fortunate are they to have the talent-loaded roster they put out night after night and all the more frequently they fail to match the intensity of their opponents. This is a puck-possession team but there is no identity that comes with it. There's very little grit and on some nights the passion of their play looks questionable. As an observer, it looks on some occasions that Joel isn't juggling lines to match opponents' defensive styles but like he's trying to integrate everyone as an entire team. This isn't training camp anymore. It's 1 week before the playoffs start! What will it take to inspire this team to understand its identity?

My take: Great post. Few teams have puzzled me more than the defending Cup champs this season. They've shown flashes and stretches of turning the tide and then fall back into bad habits. You mentioned grit; I think that's an accurate question mark. Andrew Ladd, Dustin Byfuglien and even Ben Eager -- they are sorely missed in the physicality department. Still, I'd be shocked if the Hawks didn't make the playoffs. The question is, can they win a series?

tuwontuseventhree: As a native Manitoban who was transplanted with his family down to Arizona many years ago, I have a special interest in the Coyotes-Winnipeg story, as well as a lot of conflicted feelings. I hope the team doesn't move, but all I can do about it is hope. After everything that has happened I have a really difficult time convincing anyone that they can survive in Arizona.

What I'd like to ask you about is what this, along with the Atlanta Thrashers' problems, says about the financial state of the NHL. We're looking at a situation where two teams may be better off if they moved from the 9th-largest market (Atlanta) or the 13th-largest market (Phoenix) in the league to what would be the smallest market -- and the smallest arena -- in the league. Don't get me wrong: I would love to see the 'Peg get another team (I hope it's the Thrashers instead of the Coyotes), but the fact that that is now a good possibility shows how desperate things have become. How did we get here and what can be done about it?

My take: Excellent points. It's a nervy time in the NHL on the ownership front with the St. Louis Blues and Dallas Stars also for sale, as well as half the New Jersey Devils. But to your point about Winnipeg, I think what makes that market suddenly more attractive is the robust Canadian dollar. At the close of markets Monday, one Canadian dollar bought you $1.0341 U.S. That's insane. Given that players are paid in U.S. dollars, Canadian NHL teams are loving this right now, and the six Canadian NHL teams were already the biggest revenue generators in the league before the dollar took off. Given that economic experts predict the Canadian dollar to remain strong for quite a while, Winnipeg makes more sense than ever.

Sobelmonster: Why do the Blues always wait until the last week of the season to start playing hockey?

My take: Did you mean the Blues, or the Maple Leafs?

mafness:
Well, as a Devils fan, I knew this day was coming very soon. I did not think it would be this year, especially with the additions of Kovalchuk, Volchenkov and Tallinder. But what can you do? I really almost resent them for making the second-half charge. I had accepted the epic failure of a season they conditioned us Devils fans for in the first half and I was encouraged by the #1 or #2 draft pick possibility. ...

The push also stopped Lou from making any real trades. Even had the Devils overcome the epic hole, the team still needs to be fixed. There are players on the team that don't live up to their price tag. They're old, slow and can't score. And Lou did nothing to address that, so when only Langs and Arnott left for a soft return, I was very disappointed. This was a good chance to shed some dead weight, lose some salary, get a return on some UFAs and Lou did virtually nothing ... then there is the Parise situation. I can't see him wanting to stay. But again, what can you do? Devils fans have enjoyed 13 straight years of postseason success with 3 Cups and 4 trips. As crappy as I feel about this team, it could always be worse ... I could be a Leafs fan.

My take: And that's the rub this season for the Devils, isn't it? As exciting as the second-half surge was, the long-term health of the franchise would have benefited more from a high lottery pick. Thing is, you can't tell a team to lose, and there's too much talent and pride in that Devils dressing room to have let things go like they were. So, yes, in the end, you get the worst of both worlds: no-man's land and out of the playoffs, but without a top-three draft pick. Unless, of course, the Devils win the lottery. It's a long shot, but where they sat as of Tuesday morning (25th overall), winning the lottery would hand them the second overall pick. You never know!

mapleleamjt: This isn't a rant as much as it is a rave, but I love the direction the Toronto Maple Leafs are going!! For the first time in my memory, next season the Leafs will likely have the problem of having too many NHL ready prospects and not enough roster spots. The Leafs' play of late seems to have demonstrated that Kadri deserves to be up full-time, and that guys like Tim Brent and Darryl Boyce should be re-signed. With our top 4 d-men looking pretty solid (and even Mike Komisarek playing better with Matt Lashoff) and Optimus Reim in net, this is beginning to look like a team that lacks 1-2 players necessary to be a legitimate contender. Lupul has played great with Kessel, and just imagine what that line could do with a guy like Brad Richards! We may not make the playoffs this year, but this is a team that is completely different from the guys who started the season.

My take: Why not end the 2010-11 Rant Blog on a positive note, especially since I'm sitting in the Air Canada Centre press room writing it. For the first time in several years, I honestly believe the Maple Leafs are headed in the right direction. James Reimer does look like the real deal to me, the Leafs are the second-youngest team in the league and they've got cap room.

Yes, Brad Richards will be their No. 1 offseason target, but it's no sure thing they'll get him. I still think the Rangers are the best bet for Richards. Leafs GM Brian Burke might have to be creative to fill that void at center on the top line. He may need to look around the league and see if there are teams being pressured to cut payroll and try to scoop up a center that way. It's been suggested Colorado's Paul Stastny, for example, could be had that way. We'll see. If Toronto can add a bona fide No. 1 center (in addition to its plan to add more size to the lineup), the playoffs are a possibility next season.

Thanks to all of you who participated in this season's Rant Blog. I'll be on the playoff trail the next two months and look forward to taking your questions in chats and other forums. Cheers, everyone!