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In Game 1 of the Blues-Kings series, Los Angeles winger Dwight King shoved Blues defenceman Alex Pietrangelo into the boards behind the net and received two minutes for boarding. As the video from the NBC Sports broadcast shows, Pietrangelo was clearly bleeding from the chin, the initial point of contact with the boards. Apparently the ref was called over to the bench to examine the injury, but did not ammend the original call. What gives? Should this have been a major penalty?
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I did not like this illegal hit (video link) or the penalty assessment one bit. Even if there had been the absence of an injury to the chin of Alex Pietrangelo, based on the degree of violence of the impact with the boards a major penalty was warranted under rule 41.3—boarding and needed to be identified as such. If this type of "check" from behind and resulting impact with the boards is only worthy of a minor penalty I am fearful for what it will take for a major infraction to be identified by the referees.
The only element that could be factored in and have prevented this hit from being qualified as a check from behind (rule 43—major and game misconduct) is the fact that Pietrangelo was able to raise his hands at the moment just prior to impact with the boards to offer some form of self-protection. Had Alex Pietrangelo been any closer to the boards when he was hit from behind by Dwight King with this velocity I doubt that he would have had sufficient time to defend himself in any capacity. At that point Pietrangelo's face and head would have taken the full impact of this illegal check.
Once Alex Pietrangelo was at his bench it became obvious that an injury did result from the boarding infraction as was observed by the back referee Stephen Walkom. It is most confusing to me why the initial boarding minor was not then changed to a major and game misconduct penalty as a result of the injury. Rule 41.5 reads, "When a major penalty is imposed under this rule for a foul resulting in an injury to the face or head of an opponent, a game misconduct shall be imposed."
Once blood became evident dripping down Pietrangelo's neck that resulted from a chin cut beneath the Blues defenceman's playoff growth the call became relatively academic at this point. A quick conference between the two referees should have been convened and the minor penalty initially assessed to King changed to major and game misconduct given the new evidence.
At this time of year when most players sport added facial hair it is best that the referee(s) not rush to judgment or to the penalty box to assess the penalty until it is clearly determined that no injury resulted on the play. It can take extra time for the presence of blood (injury) to appear through leathered skin, old scar tissue and beards. I'm not talking about a player squeezing a pimple or similar efforts to draw a penalty but when a player's face contacts the boards there is a chance that injury may result.
In a previous column I wrote about the referees need to correctly identify the difference between minor and major infractions. In that article I cited 3 situations where minor penalties had been assessed and players were allowed to remain in the game only to be justly suspended by Brendan Shanahan after a review. I questioned whether the officials have become desensitized to many of the dangerous hits that take place or might just prefer to pass the final judgment upstairs to the Player Safety Committee.
The illegal hit that Dwight King delivered to the back of Alex Pietrangelo is for me, another example of the guys on the ice not differentiating between a minor boarding penalty and a legitimate major infraction that resulted in an injury to a player.
The poor decision that Dwight King made on taking Alex Pietrangelo hard into the end boards from behind was worthy of major penalty based on the degree of violence with the impact of the boards as the rule suggests. The fact that injury was eventually detected to the chin of Pietrangelo should have also resulted in the assessment a game misconduct.
The referees are the first line of defense when it comes to player safety. The refs' judgment and penalty assessment goes a long way in forcing players to make better decisions in the moment so they don't place their team at a disadvantage. Players need to know what constitutes the difference in their actions for the assessment of a minor or major infraction to result. So far the difference has been often clear as mud.
Before clarity can occur for the players it is imperative that the entire referee community needs to clearly know difference. Not all of them do.
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