SUN Hockey Pool

Penalty fest NHL's necessary remedy

ERIN NICKS -- Ottawa Sun

, Last Updated: 11:53 AM ET

Have you seen many penalties called in the preseason so far? Welcome to the NHL's latest dose of bad medicine -- you may not like it, but it's the only way the patient is going to get well.

The real deal begins in only three days, but the law has been laid down throughout the league. Clutching, grabbing, and any other game-muddying variety of obstruction penalties are being called without hesitation.

Ottawa's tilt in Buffalo on Wednesday featured the undisciplined elements of the Oakland Raiders, combined with the stop-start nature of a run-of-the-mill NBA game. In other words, it didn't qualify as Must See TV.

Twenty-six penalties in total -- 13 awarded to each team. A teenager driving a stick shift has a smoother progression than this.

The Senators managed to shave off more than half of those errors in Thursday's game vs. the Penguins, with only six infractions.

POWER PLAYS UP

The difference is showing in the numbers of every game. During this past mid-week, the average number of power plays per game was 16.1. That's nearly double the 8.5 average during the 2003-04 regular season.

Naturally, it's best for the kinks to be worked out during a period that is insignificant from a competitive standpoint. It hasn't always been pretty, but the calling of penalties has had a positive influence on the game. No one can accuse the NHL of engaging in a "say one thing, do another" type of behaviour right now. And the significance of that step should not be overlooked. In order for new fans to buy into the NHL's product, the league needed to face its lackadaisical officiating flaws head-on.

The other obvious benefits have been discussed, such as taking power away from the less-skilled players who were being allowed to impede others.

But what about evening out the other playing field -- the one involving skaters in the black and white striped shirts?

Where else but in hockey do you hear of a specific official repeatedly having an effect on the outcome of the game?

Mention the news to a fan that either Kerry Fraser or Bill McCreary is calling a playoff game, and they will moan as if you had punched them in the stomach.

We shouldn't care who is officiating a game if it is being called properly. And hopefully, the irony of proper refereeing will make NHL officials as irrelevant as they are important.

Bad medicine becomes more bearable as time goes on, and in the case of multiple penalty calls, it appears we are on our final dose. Give credit to the NHL for finally tending to the health of its league.

CAN YASHIN CASH IN? It is "put up or shut up" time for newly appointed Islanders captain Alexei Yashin. One of the biggest knocks on the former Senator was he was unable (or possibly uninterested) in fending off the clutching and grabbing. With the initiation of penalty calls on obstruction, Yashin should be able to break through -- literally. Also working to his advantage will be the "two-line pass" rule, because Alexei was always effective on the power play ... if he was allowed to cherry pick.

BLOGGED DOWN: Traditional sports blogs are beyond tired. The latest generation of web tidbits has taken its lead from the New York Post's most infamous gossip column -- Page Six. On the DL (www.itsasecretsohush.blogspot.com) is a site that deals exclusively in blind items involving MLB players. There's no playoff gossip to be found here -- the blog tends to concentrate less on player chemistry and more on marital infidelity. And while the validity of the material has been questioned, some photos involving players such as Bronson Arroyo, Al Leiter and Mike Mussina speak for themselves.

TONGUE TIED: John Davidson was having some difficulty pronouncing the names of Ville Nieminen and Janne Niinimaa during the Islanders-Rangers game on Thursday. Davidson was lucky Pasi Nurminen and Teppo Numminen were not in the mix.

HOT SHOTS: A New Mexico State student called a football game's play-by-play entirely in his native language of Navajo last week. Bob Cole and Harry Neale were the pioneers of this trend -- they've been accused of speaking Latin on occasion ... The statistics of several Wonderlic tests taken by various NFL players have been leaked, much to the dismay of the league. That's the difference between the NFL and NBA: In football you worry about intelligence results -- in basketball, you worry about paternity results.

erinnicks@yahoo.ca


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