I want to examine a crucial non-call - a potential game changer - in St. Louis Blues shootout win over the Minnesota Wild on Saturday night. The play in question occurred just past the midway point of the 3rd period with the Blues up by the score of 3-2 on the strength of a Jaden Schwartz power-play goal at the 4:30 mark of that final regulation stanza.
Aside from scoring two goals in the Blues win and being selected the games 1st Star, Schwartz was also guilty of deliberately throwing his stick at puck carrier Jared Spurgeon in the Blues defending zone. No penalty was called on the play. This is what should have occurred...
With the Wild attacking the St. Louis end zone and the Blues caught on a line change, Jaden Schwartz hung over the boards and prepared to jump into the play for a legal change.
The puck was distributed to Jared Spurgeon, who joined the rush and was in prime shooting/scoring position in the right-side low-slot. Schwartz recognized that he was unable to catch Spurgeon on the back-check and dove forward and threw his stick at the puck carrier.
Rule 53.6 Penalty Shot- When any member of the defending team, including the Coach or any non-playing person, throws or shoots any part of a stick or any other object or piece of equipment a the puck carrier in his defending zone, the Referee or Linesman shall allow the play to be completed and if a goal is not scored, a penalty shot shall be awarded to the non-offending team. This shot shall be taken by the player designated by the Referee as the player fouled.
It is clear that Schwartz threw his stick at the puck carrier in violation of rule 53.6 and as such a penalty should have been awarded to Spurgeon. The foul was on the puck carrier/shooter so it would be reasonable to expect that at least one set of eyes should have been focused in that area of the ice.
Any of the 4 officials were able to make this call.
While grainy, the picture below is an indication that the thrown stick not only struck the puck carrier but likely had an impact on the quality of the scoring opportunity.
Charlie Coyle subsequently sent the game into overtime and guaranteed one point for the Wild with a goal at 18:52. The Wild however, lost the extra point in the 4th round of the shootout when David Perron beat Devan Dubnyk and then Jake Allen stoned Mikael Granlund to seal the Blues victory.
The question remains is how 4 officials could miss an infraction of this magnitude on the puck carrier/shooter? Without making any excuses, because there really aren't any, I wish to share possible explanations and remedies.
First off, this isn't your every-game routine sort of play. It happens so infrequently that when it does, an official's mind can be stuck in neutral and the play might take him totally by surprise. I had the occasion to award a penalty shot on plays such as this only 3 times during my 30 season NHL career. On each occasion the thrown stick jumped out at me and my arm triggered as I reacted to the illegality and consequence of the infraction. I had seen just about everything that could possibly happen during my time spent in the minor professional leagues earning my spurs!
Younger officials are entering the NHL with much less experience working at the professional level. They are being rushed through need and injury replacement. The majority of 'newbies' have been 'incubated" to a large degree by working in the two-referee system; even in most of the developmental leagues from Junior and College hockey. Being in charge and taking charge when necessary is something inherently learned in a one referee system. I adopted the adage, "From Experience you gain Judgment - From Bad Judgment you gain Experience!" There is no better place to gain that experience than in leagues below the NHL...
I also see too many "puck-watchers" in this faster pace NHL game as opposed to some Officials that see the play develop in advance. The best Officials we watch have developed their instincts to move in advance of what the play will ultimately dictate. They take in the whole scope of the play as opposed to a narrow focus on the puck, thereby gaining the best sightline to react to the eventual outcome of a play without being caught by surprise.
I witness this highly detrimental "puck-watching syndrome" result in the number of times that referees become caught up in the play - especially below the goal line and behind the net. There are a number of NHL Officials that have been injured to this point in the season and it generally results in being in the wrong place at the wrong time. All the NHL Officials skate well, so it's not a lack of mobility that creates the problem - it's a lack of visual awareness and moving their feet at the right time.
Seeing the play in advance dictates where their feet should take them and where their eyes should be watching in the moment.
Last but not least, expect the unexpected - even if you only see it happen three times in your entire career.