The morning after Phillip Danault’s first career three-penalty game, agitating Montreal teammate Brendan Gallagher turned to him and joked, “I’m rubbing off on you.”
Judging from the first few days of the NHL’s restart, it looks as if Gallagher is rubbing off on a lot of players. Referees’ arms must be tired after calling 116 minor penalties through 12 games — an average of almost 10 that’s a 52% increase from the regular season.
Perhaps officials are seeing more in empty arenas without the distraction and noise of fans, though players and coaches in the midst of the parades to the penalty box have other theories.
They chalk it up to a combination of rust from months off and players’ natural adjustment to the standard of officiating that’s being set in the chase for the Stanley Cup.
“We’ve been off as long as any offseason or longer, and (referees are) just re-establishing their game,” Boston Bruins agitator extraordinaire Brad Marchand said.
“I also think that guys are excited to get back on the ice and they’re running around and guys aren’t in the same control of their sticks and their bodies than maybe they are a month out from now. So, we’re all a little sloppy and more penalties come from that.”
Most are not penalties of aggression, aside from the majors handed out for the fights that have broken out. The most common in the first 11 are hooking, tripping and slashing with the odd holding or spearing thrown in.
“There’s been too many stick penalties,” Colorado coach Jared Bednar said. “There’s been too many penalties with guys just reaching in and just poor habits with their sticks and defending details and they’re getting called for it.”
Arizona coach Rick Tocchet said there haven’t necessarily been complaints about inconsistent officiating because it’s pretty tight across the board.
Maybe some grumbling here or there about too many calls for the playoffs, but the obstruction and interference is what the NHL wanted to get out of the game years ago to create more offense.
“If the referees are calling it, they must be penalties,” Philadelphia coach Alain Vigneault said. “The refereeing has been fine. The guys, it’s not an easy job and they’re calling what they’re seeing.”
Several teams got a chance to witness the tight officiating on Day One of the playoffs, including 16 minor penalties being called in the first game back between the Carolina Hurricanes and New York Rangers. That helped some teams such as the Minnesota Wild and New York Islanders limit their disciplinary issues.
“I think everyone was watching those games, especially the early time games,” Minnesota forward Ryan Hartman said. “A lot, a lot of penalties were being called and there wasn’t much getting by. I don’t know if it was more us keeping out of it or of them trying to send a message in the early games.”
The Hurricanes learned their lesson the hard way with 14 minor penalties through two games. They’re up 2-0 on the New York Rangers in the best-of-five qualifying round series anyway but understand this isn’t sustainable.
“Just can’t be careless with stick penalties,” Carolina forward Vincent Trocheck said. “We can understand if you’re being physical or making plays and playing hard and you get a penalty, those are penalties that we’re willing to kill. The stick penalties are the ones that we really need to stay away from.”
By the second period of their Game 2 against the Calgary Flames, the Winnipeg Jets were cognizant of what captain Blake Wheeler said was a “sensitivity” to games being called pretty tight. But the teams still combined for 14 penalties Tuesday afternoon.
It figures to think those numbers will come down as the playoffs move on and players get used to what a penalty is and isn’t.
“In a game or two, I think you’re going to see less penalties,” Tocchet said. “I think you’re going to see guys adjust to it, plus the coaches are probably barking at players to be disciplined anyways.”
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