NHL Trying to Clear Wings from Crease

Detroit Red Wings v San Jose Sharks - Game Two

I’m loving the San Jose-Detroit series because of how it represents a rebirth for the Sharks. Instead of being a first-round choke kind of team, they’re suddenly confident and composed.

The officiating has been a bit strange, though. Specifically, the NHL suddenly seems to have taken exception to some of Detroit’s around-the-net play.

Last night Henrik Zetterberg had a goal waved off that bounced in off of his skate as he was charging the net (but well outside of the crease). To me, it seemed more of a deflection than a kick, but it was a close call.

But in the third period, with less than three minutes left in the game, Tomas Holmstrom was called for goaltender interference when he didn’t really seem to be interfering with anyone.

I don’t think the NHL is out to get the Wings and I don’t think the officiating is part of some larger anti-Detroit conspiracy. But looking at the officiating against the Wings over the past three seasons, it’s hard not to see a pattern of calls that seem designed to keep Detroit away from opposing creases.

It seems we spend a fair amount of time each playoff season taking about the number of Detroit goals waved off because of the presence of a player in the crease — usually Zetterberg or Holmstrom.

The NHL’s message is clear: they don’t want to see play that down low in the playoffs.

I’m not sure what the NHL objects to. I suspect they’re worried about too many teams overloading the crease with huge bodies, taking some speed out of the game. The interesting thing is that fans always seem to love guys like Zetterberg and Holmstrom, who are willing to take a beating in search of a goal.

And in general, if a forward doesn’t know what to do in the offensive zone, most of the time it’s going to pay for him to just head toward the net. So it’s strange that so much officiating seems to be teaching players to avoid the net.

I would say this officiating is about protecting goalies, but if you’ve watched any regular season hockey, you’ve seen goalies run over and into nightly. The league seems to have very little interest in protecting goalies.

Detroit coach Mike Babcock has built a great team around the concept of working the crease. He won a Stanley Cup executing that strategy.

But now, down three games to none, maybe it’s time to try something else. It’s not fair Babcock has to abandon a successful strategy that requires a lot of player skill and bravery, but it doesn’t seem the Wings can beat both the Sharks and the officials.