The Winter Classic Game was held today in Philadelphia as the Flyers battled the New York Rangers at Citizens Bank Park, and it was a decent game. Not an overly exciting game, but it was fun in my honest opinion. We got to see two good uniforms, the return of Marc Staal to the Rangers' line-up, a great goaltending performance from Henrik Lundqvist, and possibly some of the craziest officiating in recent memory. While most officials want to remain invisible, the latter stages of this game saw the referees make some incredible calls that could have potentially changed the outcome of this game.
I want to say this: I have a deep respect for any official as that's the hardest job on the ice. One call will mean thousands of people blaming you for a loss, and that's simply not fair. NHL officials do their jobs well, and I'm quite certain that Ian Walsh and Dennis LaRue are excellent officials as both have a long list of achievements while wearing the stripes. But I think, in an effort to remain fair, might have blown a rather obvious call.
This has nothing to do with the Ryan McDonagh play in the crease where he was whistled for covering the puck. In fact, I totally agree with the officials in that McDonagh prevented the puck from either going into the net or being played, so the penalty shot awarded to the Philadelphia Flyers was justified.
Instead, I am baffled by the holding-the-stick call on Ryan Callahan. Kimmo Timonen threw discretion to the wind because he knew he was beat, so he hooked Callahan around the elbow. Yet Timonen was handed a penalty for interference, not hooking, while Callahan was given an off-setting minor for holding the stick!
I apologize for the shaky video, but this is the only replay I can find on the interwebs. Here's the video of the play. You make the call.
Now, if you see what Callahan does, he wraps his arm around the blade of the Timonen's stick. In turn, Timonen hauls him down, erasing what should have been a game-icing goal for the Rangers. While I can appreciate the referees' call that Callahan does indeed wrap up Timonen's stick, the referees essentially changed the outcome of the game with that call.
I'm not one to believe that Callahan dove in any way, so the holding-the-stick call should have only been called had it impeded Timonen's ability to play the puck. Timonen had been beat and wanted nothing to do with chasing down the puck, so he did what all defencemen are taught - take a penalty to save a goal. He was given an "interference" penalty despite it clearly being a hook, but he was penalized in any case.
The reason I'm baffled over the call against Callahan is because of Rule 25.1 in the NHL Rule Book. It reads,
"Rule 25.1 Awarded Goal – A goal will be awarded to the attacking team when the opposing team has taken their goalkeeper off the ice and an attacking player has possession and control of the puck in the neutral or attacking zone on, without a defending player between himself and the opposing goal, and he is prevented from scoring as a result of an infraction committed by the defending team."Callahan was in the neutral zone, an infraction was committed by Timonen of the defending team, and there was no one between Callahan and the net. The referees, in their defence, correctly noted that Callahan did NOT have possession, so maybe the referees were right in not awarding the goal to Callahan and assessing the penalty.
However, doing a little more reading, a chart for Rule 25 - Awarded Goals reads, "(ix) Player on a breakaway who is fouled from behind" will be awarded a penalty shot. This comes from Rule 25.3 which reads,
"25.3 Infractions – When Goalkeeper is Off the Ice – Refer to the Reference Tables – Table 14 – Summary of Awarded Goals (When Goalkeeper has been Removed for an Extra Attacker) for a list of the infractions that shall result in an awarded goalbeing awarded when the goalkeeper has been removed for an extra attacker (see specific rule numbers for complete descriptions)."Now there's a table that runs down the summary of penalty shots, and I've conveniently linked it so you can determine where the line should be drawn (click on it to read it more clearly).
If you look closely at Rule 25, the chart shows section (ix) to clearly define what happened between Timonen and Callahan in that Callahan was on a breakaway and was fouled from behind. Now, one can argue that he wasn't truly on a breakaway if he didn't have possession of the puck, and you'd normally get agreement from me. But there's more.
In further reading about penalty shots being awarded, Rule 24.8 comes into play since Callahan was clearly about to be on a breakaway and was fouled from behind. Rule 24.8 states,
"There are four (4) specific conditions that must be met in order for the Referee to award a penalty shot for a player being fouled from behind. They are:
(i) The infraction must have taken place in the neutral zone or attacking zone, (i.e. over the puck carrier’s own blue line);"
"(ii) The infraction must have been committed from behind;"
"(iii) The player in possession and control (or, in the judgment of the Referee, clearly would have obtained possession and control of the puck) must have been denied a reasonable chance to score (the fact that he got a shot off does not automatically eliminate this play from the penalty shot consideration criteria. If the foul was from behind and he was denied a 'more' reasonable scoring opportunity due to the foul, then the penalty shot should be awarded);"
"(iv) The player in possession and control (or, in the judgment of the Referee, clearly would have obtained possession and control of the puck) must have had no opposing player between himself and the goalkeeper."
Now I'm not an expert on the NHL Rule Book by any means, so I'm going to ask this of Kerry Fraser who regularly answers questions on the TSN webpage. I'm hoping he'll provide some insight as to why LaRue and Walsh didn't award Callahan the goal and instead sent him to the sin bin.
Again, I'm not here to start a "Fire Walsh & LaRue" campaign or anything. They are very credible and skilled referees, and they are human just like you or I. I just think that the officials played a part in preventing a 4-2 finish rather than the 3-2 Winter Classic finish we witnessed. Of course, I could also be completely off my rocker, and that's fair too.
What say you, readers: award Callahan the goal, or send him off to the box?
Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!