Let me be the first to say it. I like James Wisniewski. I liked him as the USA WJC hero, and I liked him as a gritty Blackhawk defenseman with recurring knee problems. But make no mistake–what he did last night was inexcusable, and one of the dirtiest plays I’ve ever seen.
Now I won’t go into the details of why such a play was so dangerous, you’ll hear that ad nauseum from other outlets. Instead, I’d like to focus on the inconsistency of the officiating regarding it. Just three days earlier, Alex Ovechkin shoves Brian Campbell down in a cheap, but non-malicious fashion, and receives a major boarding penalty and a match penalty on top of it. Wisniewski charges 65 feet from his defensive position and leaves his feet to deliver an elbow to the face of a player who wasn’t even near the puck, and he receives 2 minutes for charging. To add insult to injury, Duncan Keith receives a mysterious holding penalty coming to the aid of his defensive partner, and the result of the play is a 5-on-5 with your top defenseman in the box for 7 minutes, your second best defenseman in the locker room, and a guy who deliberately intended to injure a player gets to return to the ice to pick up an assist later in the game.
I’ve gone on record elsewhere as saying that the Ovechkin hit, at least to me, was not worthy of a game misconduct, but a simple 5 and 10. But for Wiz, 2 minutes for the initial infraction (plus 5 for fighting Keith) is a joke. For all the NHL’s talk about protecting its players from blindside legal hits to the head, it fails miserably when it comes to this situation, a blatantly illegal play with intent to injure.
On top of all this, Wisniewski claims he didn’t do anything wrong because he thought Seabrook had the puck, as if jumping at a guy with your elbows up while 70 feet away from your natural position is okay, even if you do believe he had the puck.
The irony in all this is that the league will probably suspend Wisniewski for a significant amount of time, perhaps even the remainder of the season, and yet the impact on the game was already felt. When Dustin Byfuglien logs 12+ minutes at the blue line from the second period on, the game’s complexion has changed. He was on the ice for both the short-handed goal and the infamous game winner.
And let’s not forget the horrendous no-call which lead to that game winner, in which Brent Sopel was shoved to the ice from behind by Corey Perry while tracking a floating puck, only to see it wind up in the back of the net just a second later. After the game, Sopel told the media that the referees refused to acknowledge him when he asked why the push was not a penalty. Perhaps it’s just an officiating bias against Hawks’ defensemen named Brent.
That isn’t to say this game was an officiating loss. Jonas Hiller was fantastic, stopping 39 of 41 shots, many of them in close. Corey Crawford made a terrible play on a loose puck leading to a short-handed goal. And while Byfuglien played surprisingly well at the back, the lack of speed on defense in Cambell’s absence is quite apparent, as the Ducks caught them flat-footed throughout the night.
And yet, the Hawks leave this game heading into tonight’s tilt with the Kings feeling as if this is a game they should have won. Indeed they played well enough, and they did a lot of things right. But all you ask for is the chance to compete fairly.
Officiating is by and large a gray area, and sometimes the decisions don’t go your way. You can’t be upset with those judgment calls, because over the course of a season those calls even out. The issue here is the calls that are black and white, obvious calls that are dictated by the rules of the game. NHL referees wear black and white stripes for a reason. If all the calls were gray area, they’d wear gray, like the NBA.
About the Author
Written by Adam Seidman
Adam can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org