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Don’t blame Alex Ovechkin.
Don’t even blame the officials.
Instead, look at the Penguins’ reaction to a missed call as the reason for last night’s 3-1 loss.
I realize this probably won’t be popular and it’s not often that I’ll defend Ovechkin. However, in the case of the slashing incident involving Kris Letang, he’s innocent – mostly.
If you missed the game, here’s a brief synopsis of the incident in question.
Early in the third period, Ovechkin and Letang were racing for a loose puck near the Penguins’ blue line. Letang had body position, but Ovechkin got his stick to the puck first.
Ovechkin appears to be trying to poke the puck around Letang and come out on the other side with it.
The puck moves to the players’ right and Letang still has body position.
Letang’s stick comes up in the air as he’s turning toward the puck. The puck is now in Letang’s skates as Ovechkin’s stick come crashing down on the back of his right leg/ankle.
To me, it looks like Ovechkin’s intent was to play the puck or take a quick shot. For a split second before the slash, the puck was visible to Ovechkin.
The unfortunate part is that the slash caused Letang to drop to a knee, catch an edge and crash awkwardly into the boards. He would go down the runway to receive treatment, but would return to the game.
I’ll fully admit that watching it happen in real time, the play looked a lot more malicious than it does after watching it a dozen times.
Ovechkin absolutely should have been assessed a minor penalty for slashing, but he wasn’t.
“They’re going to call what they think are penalties. Obviously, they didn’t see the slash. So, they’re not able to call it if they don’t see it. I’m not going to sit here and talk about the officiating. We gotta find a way to win games. When you score one goal a game, you’re not going to give yourself a great chance to win either. So, we gotta look in the mirror a bit too,” Crosby said.
Did the non-call change the outcome of the game? I think it did, but not for the obvious reason.
Assume the slash was called for a second. Would the Penguins have scored on the resulting power play?
Considering they haven’t scored a power play goal this month (0-18 in last eight games), forgive me for being a bit skeptical.
I think the non-call affected how the Penguins approached the final 19 minutes of the game, which cost them two valuable points.
The next few minutes featured several Penguins trying to even the score to stick up for Letang. Namely, David Perron and Chris Kunitz getting in Ovechkin’s face right off the ensuing faceoff after the slash.
That was followed up by Maxim Lapierre starting a scrum before a faceoff in the offensive zone. Think about that one for a second.
That particular incident left the Penguins down a man for two minutes.
I don’t necessarily mind the Penguins trying to stick up for Letang. However, at some point, you have to realize it’s a 1-1 game in the third period against a division rival.
Oh, and there’s that whole playoff positioning thing to keep in mind too.
With about five minutes to go, Kunitz drilled Joel Ward into the boards right in front of the Penguins’ bench and was assessed a boarding penalty.
To me, I’ve seen far worse hits go unpunished. However, I’m not going to sit here and rehash how penalties are wildly inconsistent in the NHL. Anyone that watches the NHL knows this already.
Heck, anyone that watched last night’s game knows that.
Regardless, Letang was assessed a slashing penalty seconds into the penalty kill for chopping a stick in half. Obvious penalty. I know what you’re thinking. “So was Ovechkin’s.”
Again, I know.
Ward, who was seemingly shaken up by the Kunitz hit, returned to the ice and scored on the 5-on-3, which proved to be the game-winning goal.
The part that frustrates me the most in all of this is that the Penguins had seized momentum heading into the third period. After a pretty lackluster first period, the Penguins came out and played very well in the second.
They earned two power play chances in the period and just didn’t capitalize. The point being, they were taking over and playing well.
But, all it took was a missed call – albeit a very badly missed call – to throw them off their game.
“I didn’t like it. I don’t think anybody on the ice saw it or they would have called it. I know for sure they would have called it if they had seen it,” Johnston said. “What we should have done is work to get our power play, you know there’s got to be one coming, and we took a few too many penalties ourselves. That’s the wrong reaction to a thing like that.”
With the loss, the Penguins fall to 7-10-4 in the Metropolitan Division. By comparison, the division-leading Islanders are 19-3 against the Metro.
Needless to say, the Penguins have bigger things to worry about than a missed slash.