Wings Win Fights, But Lose Game

Probably the most symbolic way to sum up Thursday night’s strange game against the Nashville Predators would be to point out two simple statistics. First, the Red Wings’ current goal-scoring leader is Steve Yzerman, with six goals. Second, the team’s current leader in penalty minutes is ALSO Steve Yzerman, and he got all 37 of those minutes in this emotional 5-3 loss to Nashville.

The first fight was underway almost before the game started. Darren McCarty got into a scrap with Jeremy Stevenson at center ice, 23 seconds in. Curtis Joseph got off to a strong start in his season debut, making a huge save on a two on one rush just as Jiri Fischer was being called for a high sticking penalty. Kimmo Timonen was sent out for hooking just seconds later, resulting in four on four play.

Henrik Zetterberg took advantage of the open ice to get the Red Wings on the scoreboard. Ray Whitney carried the puck into Nashville’s zone, then sent it across to Mathieu Schneider. Schneider sent the puck over to Zetterberg, whose shot rose high and went into the net over the shoulder of goalie Tomas Vokoun.

Scott Hartnell wanted to fight Fischer then, and Fischer, well aware that Hartnell was the one who knocked him down to cause his knee injury last season, was happy to oblige. Three good punches, and Hartnell was down.

Nicklas Lidstrom was given a weak penalty for holding with 1:00 left in the first. When Yzerman protested, he was given an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty and a ten-minute misconduct to go with it, leaving the Wings down two men for a full two minutes. Kirk Maltby, Kris Draper, and Chris Chelios did an excellent job of killing off the five on three at the end of the first and start of the second periods, and Joseph was always in perfect position to stop any shots the Predators got to the net.

The Predators got on the board after their power play was done. Jordin Tootoo hit Fischer in the corner, knocking the puck loose so Greg Johnson could shoot the puck just past Joseph’s far side.

Johnson tipped in a shot by Marek Zidlicky to give Nashville the lead with 9:27 left in the second, then Hartnell redirected a shot by Timonen to increase the lead with a power play goal. Tootoo and Mathieu Dandenault got into a fight after Hartnell’s goal, but that one was an even match and had to be broken up by the officials.

Yzerman gave the Wings a power play goal early in the third. He got the rebound from Lidstrom’s point shot and put it into the open net with such force that the puck was stuck in the goal netting. The goal gave the Red Wings a lot of momentum, until they were forced to deal with another five on three penalty. This time, Draper was sent out for holding. Yzerman had a few choice words for the referees, and he was given another two-minute unsportsmanlike conduct penalty, another ten minute major, and a game misconduct to go along with it.

Chelios, Lidstrom, Maltby, and Joseph did the best they could on the five on three, but finally David Legwand managed to squeeze a rebound shot past Joseph. Adam Hall wanted to fight Chelios then, and Scott Walker went after Maltby. More fighting majors were handed out, along with game misconducts to Maltby and Walker.

Brett Hull added a power play goal to bring Detroit back within one with 5:25 left to play. The Wings pulled Joseph for a sixth skater with 1:33 remaining, but the Predators got the puck out of their zone and Rem Murray put it into the empty net.

The scoring was done, but the battles were not. Brendan Shanahan went after Hall with a fierce attack. Stevenson went after Dandenault. McCarty and Jamie Allison fought. Finally, just as the final buzzer sounded, Hartnell wanted a rematch against Fischer, but their teammates broke them up. The game had gone on long enough for everyone.

Detroit outshot Nashville by a final count of 27-24. The Red Wings will next face the Oilers in Edmonton on Saturday night. Their next game against the Predators will be the first home game after the road trip, on November 8. With such a short amount of time between games, it will be interesting to see how much resentment carries over from this game to that one.

Detroit and Nashville totaled 210 penalty minutes…. Dominik Hasek reportedly has a minor groin injury.

The Refs Were Wrong, But Does the League Care?

In tonight’s matchup between the Red Wings and the Predators, the referees officiating the game, Mike Leggo and Tim Peel, completely blew two major calls. I can almost promise that nothing will be done about it.

I typically don’t use this space to rant but I feel I have to now because it’s time for as many people as possible to speak out and let the NHL know something is wrong. The league’s refs are not held publicly accountable and it’s time for them to be.

Players and coaches can’t publicly question the officials without being slapped with a fine. When officials are punished, it’s done behind closed doors where the public can’t see what action, if any, the NHL is taking to ensure the integrity of its referees.

The league acts as though there is nothing wrong with any of their officials. The league is wrong.

Since the fourth game of this young season, Detroit has been involved in only a small handful of well-officiated games. That game in Pittsburgh was officiated so poorly it was almost funny. The game two days later in Montreal was only marginally better. At Madison Square Garden later that week the officials missed easy calls on both teams.

Tonight, they blew it completely.

With just under one minute remaining in the first period and with the Red Wings carrying a 1-0 lead, Nicklas Lidstrom pinched Nashville’s Scott Walker into the boards. Lidstrom put his shoulder into Walker and fought for the puck with his stick. At no point did he wrap his arms around Walker. He was called for holding.

It was clearly a bad call and Detroit captain Steve Yzerman argued the fact. He was given an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for disagreeing with the officials. As Yzerman headed to the dressing room at the end of the period, he continued his argument and was given a ten-minute misconduct for his efforts.

Later in the game, with Detroit attempting to tie the game, Kris Draper grabbed Predator Martin Erat as the two came to the front of the Detroit goal. Erat dropped to his knees in a clear dive. The dive went uncalled, and Draper was sent to the penalty box.

For the second time in the game, Yzerman argued a bad call and was thrown in the penalty box for unsportsmanlike conduct. On the ensuing 5-on-3, the Predators scored and put the Red Wings away.

On his way out of the penalty box, Yzerman continued to argue the calls and was ejected from the game. As a parting shot, Yzerman seemed to say “You [expletive]ed up.”

On the ice, Yzerman spoke up about the bad calls and was penalized for it. He will be unable to speak about the calls off the ice without being fined. The refs made the wrong calls and only the NHL, policing itself without letting the public know if it is actually doing so, can do anything about it.

Judging by the officiating I’ve seen this year, I’ve come to two possible conclusions.

One is that there is a league-wide conspiracy against the Red Wings. While I’d like to think it is this easy, it simply can’t be true. It would be too noticeable if the league was picking on one of the teams.

The second option is that the league just doesn’t care that its officials are making the wrong calls. This prospect seems much more likely to me, and it frightens me.

The league needs to publicly discipline its officials when they make mistakes so that the fans of the game know that something is being done to correct the problem. Until that happens, we can only watch games like this and wonder if the league even cares.