Hawks get outplayed but pick up point on Long Island - KMSP-TV

Hawks get outplayed but pick up point on Long Island

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CHICAGO (FOX 32 News) -

On Thursday night for the opening 22 minutes or so it looked like it would be only a matter of time for the Chicago Blackhawks to take control and capture two points. Maybe they thought the same but the Islanders had a different plan in mind. The Blackhawks fell behind by two goals, rallied and then lost in overtime 3-2.

The best news for Hawks fans is Corey Crawford returned from injury and played a solid game. In his first start since December 8, Crawford needed to be sharp as his teammates weren't crisp.

A poor decision by Johnny Oduya led to an opening period goal. In the second period the Islanders played at a quick pace as the Hawks were back on their heels and fell behind 2-0. Give the Islanders credit as they did manage to record 34 shots on goal.

The speed of the Blackhawks is dependent on being able to pass well. When passes don't connect the game slows down and turnovers are more frequent. The defensive zone coverage was off and Crawford kept the Hawks in the match. At the other end of the ice, Evgeni Nabokov was tested and responded well.

All in all the Blackhawks were fortunate to get a point as their better players didn't stand out. Once again they failed to pick up points in the OT period. It is almost impossible to believe Patrick Kane has yet to score in a shootout and the Hawks haven't won a game in OT but they currently sit at the top of the NHL.

Now the club will have to regroup for a return match with New Jersey Friday night, as Antti Raanta should get the start in goal.

Al's Shots

Brandon Saad was not chosen to play for Team USA in the upcoming Olympics. There were a few questionable selections announced on January 1, but that's often the case. Islander fans feel Kyle Okposo, who scored the game winner should have been chosen to play in Sochi. My thinking is Saad and Okposo could get a chance to be Olympians if there are a couple of injuries to those selected.

The U.S. captured a Silver Medal last time and that makes it more difficult to make changes concerning veterans. One could make the case both Okposo and Saad should have been chosen ahead of the Kings Dustin Brown who has only 13 points this season.

NHL Officiating

Unfortunately I can criticize NHL officiating more often than not. Other sports have problems with officiating but the issues concerning hockey are more perplexing. At some point I learned it is best to expect little as there are reasons for the subpar whistle blowers and they aren't easy to fix.

The scattered NHL rule book, an apparently thin talent pool, and a constant struggle to eliminate discretionary calls is a handful to deal with. The situation is perplexing and at times defies logic.

Commissioner Gary Bettman frequently proclaims the NHL was the first major sport to use video replay back in 1991. Once again the NHL is in a futile dance between discretionary calls they don't want to review and the more black and white. Interestingly the NHL added no touch icing this season and that call is of a discretionary nature.

The NHL doesn't have a net camera in use for every regular season game. They don't review all plays around the goal crease that lead to the puck crossing the line. So simply put the NHL may have been the first to use video replay but they still don't have it right.

Is there anything more important than getting the score correct?

Starting during the 1999 playoffs the NHL began using two referees. That's right, at the most important time, during the playoffs the use of two referees began.

Not waiting until the beginning of the following season to implement a two ref system always seemed odd to me. After awhile you learn to not question such NHL decisions because many can't be explained.

The bigger concern is the officiating never dramatically improved, actually many feel it is worse. Having another ref on the ice is an additional variable. Some believe the more senior referee won't be shown up by a younger man in stripes. So depending on what part of the ice an infraction takes place may determine the likelihood of a whistle. The referee with the least experience takes a back seat.

Beyond all else it appears the NHL hastily doubled the referees without having an adequately stocked talent pool. There has been a significant shortage of officials in the minor leagues for years.

The breeding ground for NHL officials is the AHL and still today not all games employ the use of two referees. It seems the training ground for referees should duplicate the same two referee system where officials are headed when they get promoted.

An inadequate supply of officials isn't good and to add to the mess is the apparent micro-managing of referees.

I notice as well as others who watch a good amount of hockey that in stretches the frequency of certain infractions increases.

Empirically tested for years I have noticed there appears to be penalties for certain months. Sometimes goaltender interference is the focus, other times bad line changes are more scrutinized. If you watch enough highlights there seems to be an uneven frequency in penalty shots called at certain times of the season.

This isn't my imagination as I have spoken to others including scouts and they feel the same. Realizing how often referees are reviewed, it would be easy enough to adjust their focus. Games can be scrutinized and downloaded for review.

There is no doubt in my mind the league stresses to watch for certain infractions at different times. An example that always seems to hold true is goaltender interference is called more often later in the season before the playoffs begin.

It isn't an easy job to be a referee, between the scattered NHL rule book and the micro-managing from the league office the job is made more difficult. What is frustrating for fans is when phantom hooking calls are made but obvious slashing penalties on a breakaway are missed.

Unfortunately that's the imbalance between black and white or using discretion. Often it seems some calls are almost mechanical, even those fouls which don't have an impact on the play. Then other times penalties which involve a feel for the game are missed.

The quickest attempt to right the ship would involve taking a step back. The NHL will most likely not do so and revert back to one referee.

Besides managing the rule book without over managing officials it would be better to go back to one referee until the talent pool was well stocked. Once all AHL games are officiated with two refs for awhile, then going back to four man officiating crews could begin again in the NHL.

It will take time plus a lot of work to hold NHL officiating to a higher standard and it will take money as well. There seems to be room for additional referee candidates but I'm not sure how many will find the job appealing.

If the officiating were more consistent popularity of the NHL in the U.S. would increase a great deal. Until then be tolerant and appreciate the sport anyway.

I will be back on Saturday morning and you can follow me on Twitter @AlCimaglia.

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