Krupa: Wings' loss displays injustice of NHL shootouts

Gregg Krupa
The Detroit News

Detroit — In a well-checked game in which offensive chances were frequently denied by fine efforts from two fine goaltenders, the farcical shootout and poor officiating were both ugly punctuation to the Red Wings' 1-0 loss Tuesday at Joe Louis Arena.

Both teams determined to skate right with each other, often denying ice for offense.

And when occasional glimpses of offense appeared, despite some terrific playmaking at times, Jimmy Howard and Sergei Bobrovsky were outstanding in response.

The utter inconsistency of a shootout with the way the rest of an NHL game is played has rarely seemed so jarring as at the end of Tuesday's goaltending duel.

How two goalies can be required to enter a skill competition to decide a game in which both had played so flawlessly underlines the need for the NHL to do something to decrease the importance and impact of a tie-breaker more inconsistent with the way the rest of the sport is played than anything in the other three major sports in North America.

The tide might be turning.

Darryl Sutter, coach of the defending Stanley Cup champion Kings, put down a big marker last week when his team played into a shootout after a hard fought game with the Maple Leafs

"I don't have the time of day for them other than trying to score on them," said Sutter, who played eight seasons. "It's unfair for your goalies, to be quite honest, because they feel like when they get beat, they feel like they've lost the game."

After all their work — and both Howard and Bobrovsky made absolutely sterling saves throughout the game, trading shots like heavyweights, lined up on opposite ends of the street like gunslingers at the O.K. Corral — to end it with a shootout discounted everyone's performance and seemed utterly inappropriate.

"What I don't like about it is Howie stood on his head and leaves the rink feeling like he didn't win," Wings coach Mike Babcock said. "That's why they don't have a home run derby at the end of a tight ball game. Because it doesn't make any sense, right?

"But, I mean, it is what it is. There's points on the line. We've got to find a way. We've really worked hard at it. We work on it every pre-game skate. … Howie needs to get a win, and that's it."

Meanwhile, what might have been the best result, a close-checked game with excellent goaltending decided in regulation or the overtime, ended on a note entirely unrelated to the rest of the game.

Asked if it felt unfair to both him and Bobrovsky, the perpetually good-natured Howard brushed the notion aside.

"Oh well, they don't have them in the playoffs," he said. "So that's when it matters."

As for the officiating. The number of missed infractions, so-called non-calls, would have been bad enough in a game in which one team was dominating another.

But when the whole thing turned on a razor's edge?

If the Red Wings had three power plays in addition to the one they had, or if the Blue Jackets had the one or two more power plays they deserved in addition to the three they got, the game might have been entirely different.

Among the most egregious non-calls was an assault by cross-check on Henrik Zetterberg's lower back along the boards, during which he was effectively boarded — face first, and then down to the ice.

When he got to the bench, the Red Wings captain — who endured back surgery 10 months ago, and has grappled with back issues frequently, otherwise — flexed his back, seemed in discomfort and sat down lightly off to the side.

With a quick stoppage in play, he was able to make the cross-checking gesture to the offending referee, Wes McCauley, who skated over in front of Zetterberg at the blue line to position himself for the face-off.

A conversation ensued, with Zetterberg holding his mouth in a glove, and seeming to do most of the talking.

In truth, it was one of the worst non-calls during a season in which the referees have proven capable of missing more than a few.

It seems nearly certain that the speed of play and the size of players has made it far more difficult to officiate in the NHL. But, at times, it looks ridiculous.

Unfortuantely, it was a game one could watch and conclude that the integrity of NHL competition is not at the proper level of professional sport, at times — especially when a hard-fought, brilliantly goaltended game goes to the shootout.