Bad Officiating Doomed The Panthers

Versteeg was called for slashing on this play. Photo: Eliot J. Schechter/NHLI via Getty Images

Most of the time, I find it to be a fruitless endeavor to blame the officials for a loss in any sport.  I realize that the referees are human beings too, and are prone to make mistakes just like the players.

However, I didn’t get the vibe tonight that the officials were making mistakes, over and over and over again.  The penalties called against the Panthers on Tuesday night were often ticky-tack calls, and there were a plethora of bad no-calls that made a Florida comeback increasingly difficult with each “mistake”.

If you ask me, the officiating was more of a collusion against Kevin Dineen‘s team, not an unbiased effort.

The Panthers finished the game with nine minor penalties compared to the Coyotes’ four, and the officials screwed the Panthers in greater ways than even the constant short-handedness.  With less than five minutes left and the Panthers’ top line rushing into the offensive zone, a pass was tipped towards the blue line.  Brian Campbell came in to hit the puck back into the zone, but the linesman rushed in to call the play dead.

Offsides, he called it, as he skated across and pointed vigorously at the blue line.  In the meantime, the players argued, the fans booed, and Dineen stewed in his angst.  An overhead replay showed that the puck did not even come close to crossing the blue line: the puck hadn’t even touched the white ice on the other side before Campbell knocked the puck back in.  Who knows what happens if the ref lets the play continue?  With the Weiss line on the ice, it surely could have been a goal.

A few minutes earlier in that period, the linesman called off an apparent icing against the Coyotes, saying the dump was tipped by some mystery player.  Dineen paced back and forth, crossed his arms, and yelled in general.  He wanted the call to stick the top line in against a tired defense, and he probably should have gotten it.

Speaking of the Weiss line, we didn’t get to see a ton of it last night.  In fact, Dineen had to start double-shifting Weiss, Versteeg, and Fleischmann near the end of the game to get them close to twenty minutes of ice time.  The penalty kill got the bulk of the work in a parade to the sin bin.  For the most part, the PK was great, and it totally shut down the Coyotes’ power play on a couple of scenarios.  However, the law of averages would lead to the Panthers undoing.  On nine opportunities, the Yotes got two goals, and one of those came on a 5-on-3 advantage.  It just gets too tough to repeatedly defend a unit designed to score, and the Panthers should be lucky that they were able to hold their opposition to only two goals.

But from a different perspective, it gets really hard to score being down a man for such a huge chunk of the game.  You can’t get any momentum churning when you are always being penalized for playing too aggressively for the Coyotes to handle.  The usual balance between offense and defense was never really in sync for the Panthers: for most of the game, they either had to play conservatively in their own zone or ramp up the offensive pressure.  There was no happy medium for the Panthers to play a solid two-way game.

Some of the penalties in this game were infuriating and just uncalled for.  The Versteeg penalty in the first was brutal.  He tried to steal the puck from Coyote Keith Yandle, but slapped the defender’s stick with his own stick.  Yandle miraculously dropped his stick at the same speed that Versteeg hit it.  And as a kicker, Yandle lifted his head away from the loose puck and went looking for eye contact with a ref.  The officials obliged, and Versteeg was headed to the box for making a hockey move on Yandle’s stick.

The worst of the night though came against Shawn Matthias in the first.  In an effort to shield the goalie, Matthias was getting physical with a defender in front of the net.  Matthias gave the Coyote a healthy love tap, and the wimp simply collapsed like a bad soufflé.  The Panthers, who had a lengthy shift going at the time holding the puck in Phoenix’s zone, were all of a sudden down a man because of a referee’s inept understanding of the interference rule.  The penalty would wind up being scored on, too, as it was the first penalty on the 5-on-3.

It just boils my blood to think about it.  But I’m not alone in my sentiment of the officiating.  Dineen had this to say, mostly regarding a Shane Doan hit in the corner that appeared to injure Mikael Samuelsson:

“I think when I’m screaming like a fool on the bench, what you do is set a precedent with the referees, so I’ll hang myself on that one because what we’re trying to do is get a lot of hits to the head out of the game and there were so many plays I felt were dangerous plays.  The game obviously became lopsided.  Very disappointed with the officiating tonight.

According to Dineen, the refs had a vendetta against him after he argued the Shawn Matthias penalty in the first.  For the rest of the game, they called questionable penalties just to spite the head coach.  If that’s true, that’s pretty juvenile for a group of people trying to incorporate order, fairness, and common sense into the game.

Of course, I’ll need to argue against the devils’ advocate in this game.  If the officials were totally against the Panthers, then why did they give them the penalty shot at the end of the game?  Well, because that’s a rule that can’t be missed under any circumstance.  Two Coyotes tried to do the same thing by dislodging the net, and this time they did a poor job of hiding their intent.  Clear as crystal, it’s in the rulebook; you can’t miss that.

But overall, this was one poorly officiated game, that directly took points off of the standings for Florida.  Our effort on the ice was there tonight, but it gets too hard when a team starts playing against a second enemy.  I’m usually not one to complain about the refs one way or another, but I can’t help but say it:

Nut and bolts, we got screwed.

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