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I've been watching L.A.'s run through the playoffs and it is remarkable what they've been able to do. My only issue with their game is Dustin Brown's embellishments along the way. So far he has drawn 16 penalties, many of them have been very borderline and it makes you wonder if the referees are starting to take notice. Last night with about seven minutes left, he drew a penalty on Ekman-Larsson that was an obvious dive. I felt like last year we saw this same kind of play from the Vancouver Canucks and it ended up coming back to haunt them. My question is, when do the referees actually stand back and assess this type of playing and start to take into account someone's reputation? It not only makes the officials look bad, but it's bad for the sport all together and in my opinion its classless.
Before the playoffs began, I said the LA Kings were a team that was built and poised to go deep into the playoffs. Their combination of speed, size (how they use it), skill (offensively and defensively) and the outstanding goaltending of Jonathan Quick is going to be very difficult to match up against.
I have always admired the quiet leadership and aggressive, hard-hitting play that Dustin Brown has demonstrated throughout his NHL career, similarly to how I described Chris Neil of the Ottawa Senators in a previous column. Last night, the similarity between Brown and Neil did not just end with these admirable characteristics but also in a successful effort to draw a penalty by embellishing the push/shove of the stick by Oliver Ekman-Larsson. Brown's reaction was not proportional to the force exerted by Ekman-Larsson but was rewarded with a power play in a city where Oscar's are given for outstanding performances. Dustin Brown's was not that deserving in this case.
For tough, hard-nosed players such as Brown, Neil and others, it is most unbecoming when they employ this tactic. It does harm to their reputation and they join an undesirable list of known offenders when their embellishment causes embarrassment to the referee and the game. Once a player skates down the slippery slope of embellishment, I can assure you it causes every referee to question that player's honesty when determining a legitimate foul. I would have to suspect that previous history and reputation had something to do with the embellishment penalty that was assessed to Dustin Brown in Game 2 after taking a hard slash to the back of his knee from Mike Smith.
I am often asked how two penalties can be imposed on the same play; whatever the initial foul was identified as and then followed by a diving penalty? Shouldn't it be one or the other, you ask? Sometimes there is a 'stand alone' diving penalty but most often there is a legitimate foul through contact that the referee identifies by raising his arm. Following the initial infraction and when embellishment results from the player fouled in an effort to "sell the call", that is when both players are sent to the box.
In theory, the loss of a team's power play opportunity when their player is found guilty of embellishment is supposed to be a strong deterrent for players engaging in this practice. It's really not working all that well as we have seen.
Diving is often a difficult call for the referee to make. Often, there is some form of force exerted on a player that could cause him to fall and create the referee's need to consider it a legitimate penalty infraction. The referee must take into account not only the action and force exerted by the player potentially committing the foul, but also the reaction of the player that received the contact to determine if embellishment resulted.
A law of physics tells us that for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. Not the case when Ekman-Larsson shoved Brown with his stick at 13:22 of the third period of Game 3. Brown's reaction was unnatural and excessive to the force that had been exerted on him by Ekman-Larsson.
Prior to Rule 64 adding diving/embellishment to the rule book, the only 'penalty' (sanction) that we referees employed in an attempt to force player honesty was by being much more selective and strict on infractions committed against habitual divers. The list of known offenders wasn't all that long but they very seldom got the call. The list of players capable of diving/embellishing is almost limitless in today's game. I would even say that there is an epidemic when we see 'honest', hardworking, tough players engage in this practice to win at all cost.
The Conference Finals of the Stanley Cup playoffs is not the time for the referees to strap on the six guns in an effort to clean up embellishment in Dodge. The refs must however, ramp up their radar and if any doubt is created in their mind as to the legitimacy of a foul, then I would suggest they keep their arm down and play on. I also hope they will seize every opportunity to enforce obvious embellishment by calling a penalty (whether as a 'stand alone' penalty or a coincidental minor when embellishment occurs as the aftermath to a legitimate foul).
I think the dive is often worse that the legitimate foul in terms of damage that is done to the integrity of the game. As such, I would like to see the dive worth a double minor when it is preceded by a penalty infraction the referee had identified. Rather than just evening up the numerical strength, the diver would put his team at a distinct disadvantage.
Players won't work to remain on their feet until penalties are imposed on a more liberal basis. If and when that happens, please don't blame the referees for 'overreacting'!
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