The ghost of Tomas Holmstrom continues to haunt the Detroit Red Wings.
During Sunday’s game against the lowly Buffalo Sabres, the Red Wings found themselves tied 2-2 in overtime after a slow start.
During a Red Wings power play, which was a four-on-three, Henrik Zetterberg appeared to score the game-winning overtime goal when he one-timed a pass from Pavel Datsyuk from the top of the left circle past Michael Neuvirth.
However, the goal was waived off because Johan Franzen was deemed to have made incidental contact with Neuvirth. Here’s the play.
Neuvirth initiates the contact, but there is contact there, albeit very minor contact.
This is the third time the Red Wings have had a goal disallowed in the past six games. On Oct. 21, a goal by Datsyuk was waived off when Montreal goalie Carey Price initiated contact with Justin Abdelkader, and last Wednesday, Drew Miller had a goal waived off when Braden Holtby slipped trying to get back to his net. The referees called Luke Glendening for goalie interference even though Holtby slipped on his own.
I’m not here to say there’s a conspiracy against the Red Wings to make sure they don’t make the playoffs, because it’s silly to think there is one. But Neuvirth had an interesting quote after the game last night that raises some questions.
From Joe Yerdon, NHL.com Correspondent for the Sabres:
“I was talking to the ref a couple times during the game and he said, he told me, ‘I know he’s standing in the crease so whenever they’re going to score a goal I’m going to disallow it,'” Neuvirth said. “I was glad he actually did it.”
Yerdon warned the Red Wings community they may not like what they were about to see.
I’m sure that quote is going to go over very well amongst Wings faithful.
— Joe Yerdon (@JoeYerdon) November 3, 2014
Upon first reading this quote and then seeing the outrage on Twitter, I didn’t quite get what the fuss was about. However, there are two ways of looking at this situation.
Did the Referee Coach Neuvirth?
This was the way most of the Red Wings faithful looked at it. They viewed it as the referee telling Neuvirth “Don’t worry, if they are in your crease and there is contact, I will make sure I call them for it.”
SB Nation Red Wings blog Winging It In Motown believes the talks gave Neuvrith more confidence in an attempt to draw a call.
— Winging It In Motown (@wingingitmotown) November 3, 2014
I can see WIIM’s point of view, but it’s hard to say what Neuvirth was thinking unless someone straight up asked him “Did what the referee tell you give you more confidence that you could draw a goalie interference call?”
However, that’s not how I viewed Neuvirth’s quote. The way I looked at it was the referee explaining the rules more than anything. Just as if he were going to go up to Zetterberg and say “If they keep grabbing and clutching you, I’m going to call it.”
His job is to call penalties, and he would explain that to Zetterberg, just like his job is to waive off goals that stem from contact in the crease.
While I don’t have a problem with the referee letting Neuvirth know he will make that call, I do have a problem if he never said a word to the Red Wings. If he noticed they were straying into the crease quite a bit, he should have warned coach Mike Babcock and the rest of the team that if he continues to see that, he will call it. That way, neither team has an advantage knowing what the referee will or will not call on any given night.
It comes down to consistency and communication. There is so much gray area with that rule that the referees have to communicate with the players how they will call it, and it has to be consistent from game to game.
Simple Solution: Stay Out of the Crease
Of course, the easy solution to solve this problem is for the Red Wings to stay out of the crease, altogether, as Babcock told Yerdon last night.
We were in the crease. Don’t be in the crease. It was a disallowed goal.
Whether Babcock really believes the call was fair or not is something we may never know. However, the Red Wings have to be more cognizant of where they are when they are on the ice.
Easier said then done, because it isn’t ideal to look down to make sure your skates aren’t in the crease while you’re awaiting a shot or a pass from a teammate.
Holmstrom had a number of goals called back due to goalie interference, and it appears as if referees are stricter with the Red Wings being around the crease because of the time Holmstrom spent in front of the net.
Regardless of where you fall on this issue, the Red Wings have to do a better job of staying out of the crease. The rules are set in stone for this year and cannot be undone. Whether or not they should be revised is something I’ve already discussed.
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Tom Mitsos is a Detroit Red Wings and Grand Rapids Griffins staff writer for The Hockey Writers. You can follow him on Twitter @tom_mitsos.