Krupa: Safety, scoring judgments are uneven in NHL

Gregg Krupa
The Detroit News

Detroit — Hockey is a tough game to call, especially given the level of play in the NHL.

But the league could do better, and the Red Wings significant game against the Panthers on Monday underlined two areas needing improvement.

In an instant Monday, Justin Abdelkader slammed into Aleksander Barkov, and the young Panthers forward was dazed. Any fan who looked down to locate the crease on a peanut shell for efficient cracking missed the live play entirely.

The referees assessed no penalty.

Barkov missed the rest of the game and returned to Florida, while the Panthers traveled to Buffalo. The Panthers and their broadcasters, including the great Hockey Hall of Fame defenseman Denis Potvin, raised a hue and cry, accusing Abdelkader of headhunting.

“It was a cheap hit; I don’t know how the ref didn’t call it,’’ Panthers center Nick Bjugstad said after the game.

“It was frustrating; the whole bench felt that way. … We’ll see how the league handles it, and I think they will.”

However, the NHL Department of Player Safety did not act.

That was fortunate for the Red Wings, although not because the body-check was illegal. It was not.

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They were lucky because a recent string of judgments coming from the department seems anything but sound.

The game also provided yet another example that the NHL’s judgment on goals is questionable, too.

Gustav Nyquist fired a puck low along the ice late in the first period, and Panthers goalie Al Montoya kicked his left skate, attempting a save, at the intersection of the goal line and the post nearest Nyquist.

Montoya was late. The puck disappeared behind his skate.

Logic and physics dictate the puck was in the net and, most likely, fully across the line. A camera shot located it in that area.

But absent a clear view, the NHL Situation Room can only conclude, as it reported: “At 19:16 of the first period in the Panthers/Red Wings game, video review was inconclusive in determining if Gustav Nyquist’s shot crossed the Florida goal line.”

The call stood, and the all-important first goal of an important game between two conference rivals would wait for another 25 more minutes of playing time, until Tomas Tatar’s goal at 4:19 of the third period.

On Nov. 10, in a game that ended in a 1-0 win for the Wings over the Capitals, another “first goal” was erased when the Situation Room — or “Toronto,” in hockey parlance — failed to find conclusive evidence the Red Wings had scored.

That time, when Twitter follower Alex Bader, of Prescott, Arizona, produced a photograph from television that appeared to show the puck across the line and sent it into the Situation Room, Bader got the same response: inconclusive.

Well, it looked conclusive to me, Alex and a bunch of other folks!

Logic too often dictates a goal likely has been scored, while the perception of humans and the technology applied yields too little evidence to banish doubt.

While the top leagues in European football deploy advanced technology to determine whether the ball has crossed the goal line, NHL fans are left hoping for greater precision. In a league in which franchises are generally owned by billionaires and revenue is hardly scarce, they need to get it right more often.

Meanwhile, the decisions of the Department of Player Safety trend toward haphazard.

On Saturday, Ryan McDonagh of the Rangers cross-checked Wayne Simmonds of the Flyers in the head. Moments later, Simmonds sucker-punched McDonagh. Neither received supplementary discipline from player safety, despite the targeting of Simmond’s head and McDonagh’s concussion, which caused him to miss the next game.

On Dec. 21, Dalton Prout of the Blue Jackets responded to a legal body-check by Sergei Plotnikov of the Penguins with five rapid-fire cross-checks to Plotnikov’s head and upper body.

No supplementary discipline.

On Jan. 12, Bobby Farnham of the Devils leveled a defenseless Dmitrij Jaskin of the Blues in retaliation for a legal check moments earlier by Kevin Shattenkirk.

The NHL suspended Farnham for four days, in part, for the predatory nature of his action.

On the same day, Tyler Myers of the Jets delivered one fierce cross-check to the head of Tommy Wingels of the Sharks after a legal body-check. The fact that Wingels was not seriously injured was good fortune.

The big defenseman received only a $5,000 fine. No one seems to be able to explain how Prout and Myers were any less predatory than Farnham.

The Red Wings could be excused for exhaling heavily when Abdelkader skated free Tuesday of any hearing before the Department of Player Safety.

Who knows what happens in there?