Got a question on rule clarification, comments on rule enforcements or some memorable NHL stories? Kerry wants to answer your emails at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Wanted to start off with saying I'm a huge fan of the column.
I have a question regarding the Third Man In rule, 46.16.
In the Penguins-Red Wings game on Sunday, Justin Abdelkader and Paul Martin were tangled up, gloves in the process of coming off and the fight about to break out. Chris Kunitz comes in as the third man and attempts to punch Abdelkader in the face. He only received two minutes for roughing (he then was assessed two minutes for unsportsmanlike conduct and a 10-minute misconduct at the conclusion of the first period).
I understand it is up to the referee's discretion to assess a game misconduct, but I'm just looking for some clarification as to why this incident did not warrant one, or if you believed it did.
Referees often enforce rule 46.16 with a more liberal and generous standard of enforcement to keep players in the game. Whenever possible, the refs will treat the involvement of multiple players in an altercation as separate roughing incidents unless a player intervenes in a full blown fight that is in progress. The last sentence contained in 46.16 ("Generally, this rule is applied when a fight occurs) provides the referees the authority and interpretation to only toss a player with a game misconduct in the most obvious cases. Even then, we have seen a more relaxed standard with regard to the third man in application in recent years.
It would have been a complete overreaction by the referee(s) to impose fighting major penalties to Justin Abdelkader and Paul Martin for their wrestling match. Their 'dust-up' was only worthy of roughing minors at the point Chris Kunitz steamrolled both players with a left-handed glove push-punch. Kunitz's left glove actually made more contact with his teammate Martin that it did with Abdelkader. The three players fell to the ice in a heap and a scrum resulted.
In all likelihood the involvement by Kunitz actually prevented a fight from taking place. It was reasonable for the referee(s) to treat the actions of each player as roughing violations and place the Red Wings on the power-play. The Penguins would have the option as to which player (Martin or Kunitz) would serve the minor penalty on the clock.
As we moved from the brawling of the 1970's and early '80's, any touch or grab of a jersey by a player who intervened in an altercation was treated as a third-man-in resulting in an ejection from the game. Even a player that was acting purely as a 'peacemaker' was subsequently ejected. This type of intervention didn't seem fair and more discretion was exercised by the referees. When accumulative game misconducts resulted in automatic suspensions General Managers often appealed game misconducts that the referees imposed. Many game misconduct penalties were subsequently rescinded. As a result, the standard of enforcement was relaxed by the referees and only imposed in the most obvious of situations.
I can't for the life of me understand why captain Sidney Crosby would be protesting the additional minor penalty imposed against Kunitz that put the Penguins a man short in this situation. The pitch-fork trip at the red line delivered by Brandon Sutter to Marek Zidlicky assessed by referee Wes McCauley was also an obvious and undisciplined penalty to take with 12 seconds remaining in the period and the Penguins already a man short. Zidlicky had set a minor pick prior to being pitch-forked by Sutter but it was correctly judged to be a no-harm-no-foul by the referee since it was not long before Sutter had delivered a solid two-handed slash to the feet of Zidlicky that McCauley gave the Penguins' penalty-kill expert a break. Sutter also complained about the call to the referee on his way toward and into the penalty box.
Wes McCauley is a patient referee with very sound judgment. He is not one to overreact. I can guarantee that there was way too much being said from the penalty box, the players' bench and on the ice by the Penguin players that resulted in the unsportsmanlike conduct and misconduct penalty that was assessed to Kunitz at the end of the period. There was absolutely no need for Kunitz to go out of his way to slide the puck in the direction of referee McCauley who was standing at the Zamboni entrance waiting to exit the ice. When players engage in excessive whining and complaining, as it appeared the Penguins did in the first period, the referee will stop the 'drip' and shut off the tap by imposing a penalty. Teams can develop a reputation for whining no differently than players do for diving and embellishment.
The Penguins have earned the undesirable reputation with several of the referees for having too much to say. As a team, they need to turn off the tap on their own as they move toward the playoffs. The referees' patience has already worn thin.