Refereeing in every sport has always been criticized and probably always will be, but it is particularly the case in the NHL. Hockey is one of the toughest sports to referee but many things lead me to believe that the NHL referees can be good, they just don't want to be or someone isn't letting them be good.
In last year's NHL Playoffs, here was an average of 7.9 power play opportunities per game, a small drop from the 8.3 in the regular season. This season, there has actually been a small increase with 7.9 power play opportunities per game as opposed to only 7.4 during the regular season. These numbers seem to indicate that referees aren't any different in the NHL Playoffs but most would agree that it's not the case. The playoffs are much more intense than the regular season and players commit more infractions, but the number of power play opportunities remains the same.
A better statistic to illustrate my point is to look at power play opportunities earned in the third period as opposed to the rest of the game. So far in the playoffs, there have been 1,240 minutes of hockey played and 440 of those have been in the third period and in overtime, which is equal to about 35.5%. In those 1,240 minutes, there have been 157 power play opportunities but only 46 of them came in the third period and in overtime, which is equal to only 29.3%. I realize that it is a relatively small sample size but it is pretty remarkable that there have been 17% fewer power play opportunities in the third period and overtime than in the first two periods. It is especially interesting considering that all the games so far have been very close ones so there should be at least as penalties later in games. A number of these power play opportunities also came in the last 45 seconds when there was either a two-goal difference or when a team would do anything to prevent a goal so the difference should be even bigger.
Why is it that there are more penalties called in the first and second periods than in the third period? NHL referees are the best at what they do and they see a lot of things that others wouldn't, but for some reason, they call fewer penalties later in games. One has to believe that the instructions are coming from somewhere up top.
Referees will always miss some calls and make some bad ones but it's unacceptable that the general trends are:
-Same number of penalties in the playoffs when the play is much more intense and there should be more penalties.
-Fewer penalties in the third period and overtime than in the first two periods.
It somewhat makes sense that the NHL doesn't want a game to be decided on a borderline call, but, because of that, games are often decided either on missed calls or on automatic calls: too many men on the ice, delay of game for shooting the puck over the board, slashing and breaking the stick or high stick with blood.
As much as I love NHL playoff hockey and as exciting as it is to watch, the NHL would be a much more respected league if it fixed a few things in its game and this is one of them. Everyone knows it, pretty much everyone agrees with it, but the NHL doesn't want to do anything about it.
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