Scouting the Refs: Blackhawks/Kings – Game 4

Tonight’s referees for Game 4 of the Western Conference Final between the Chicago Blackhawks and Los Angeles Kings are Brad Watson and Chris Rooney. Pierre Racicot and Jay Sharrers are the linesmen.

Last time out, things got a little ugly between the Blackhawks and the Kings. Game 3 saw some chippy play, including a double-minor to Chicago defenseman Duncan Keith that would result in his suspension from tonight’s game.

There’s been plenty of debate about that call – and subsequent supplemental discipline – around the league. Jeff Carter took a swipe at Keith’s ungloved hand, possibly attempting to sweep his glove away. Keith retaliated with a swing at Carter’s head. It’s a dangerous play. It’s an intentional play. It’s one that may have deserved a five-minute major and certainly earned, at minimum, a one-game suspension.

From the NHL Rulebook:

Section 8 – Stick Fouls

Rule 60 – High Sticking

60.3 Double-minor Penalty – When a player carries or holds any part of his stick above the shoulders of the opponent so that injury results, the Referee shall assess a double-minor penalty for all contact that causes an injury, whether accidental or careless, in the opinion of the Referee.

60.4 Match Penalty – When, in the opinion of the Referee, a player attempts to or deliberately injures an opponent while carrying or holding any part of his stick above the shoulders of the opponent, the Referee shall assess a match penalty to the offending player.

Per the rulebook, that’s a five-minute major. Retired referee Kerry Fraser begs to differ, based on the idea that the stickwork wasn’t premeditated:

Of course, one could also argue that Marty McSorley’s similar-but-more-violent stickwork on Donald Brashear wasn’t premeditated either…

Tonight’s Officials

Watson and Rooney have worked together just once in the 2013 Stanley Cup Playoffs – Game 1 between the Penguins and Bruins, a rough match that included this controversial play:

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Fans argued the legitimacy of the call, and whether Cooke’s history – from which he’s gone to great lengths to distance himself – factored into the severity of the charge. Further exacerbating their frustrations was the two-minute minor assessed to Brad Marchand for a similar play later in the period. By that point, the Penguins’ frustrations boiled over. Crosby jawed with Chara. Malkin dropped the gloves with Bergeron. Watson and Rooney maintained order – barely – as the Bruins closed out a 3-0 win.

Home Team Bias

Collectively, the officials tend to favor the home team when it comes to penalty calls. This may be a factor of the style of play employed by road teams looking to assert their presence and play physical. It may also be a subconscious effort by the officials to keep the home fans happy. As a group, 54% of penalties are called against the visiting club, with only 46% going against the hosts.  You can also look at it this way: for every one penalty called against the home team, 1.14 penalties are called against the road team.

It doesn’t sound like much. Frankly, it’s not. It amounts to a little less than one extra power play per game. That one power play, though, could make all the difference in a tight playoff game.  That’s exactly what we’ll have tonight in Los Angeles.

Watson (1.22 / 55.3%) and Rooney (1.14 / 53.3%) are right around the average, calling just slightly more penalties for the road team. As a comparison, 67.6% of referee Brian Pochmara’s calls went against the road team. On the other side, Eric Furlatt (42.9%) and Brad Meier (46.3%) penalize the home team far more frequently than their opponents.

Penalties By Period

Both Watson and Rooney also have a tendency to call the majority of their penalties in the second period of play. Combined, 43.3% of their calls have come in the middle stanza. They’re balanced between the first and the third in terms of total numbers, but that statistic is slightly misleading. In the NHL playoffs, 46.9% of third-period calls result in no loss of manpower on the ice (matching minors, fighting majors, and game misconducts) or are ‘automatic calls’ like the mandatory puck-over-glass call. Taking those out of the equation, a mere 20.4% of penalties happen in the third period. Rooney and Watson, combined, are slightly higher than the league average, showing greater tendency to make a call in the third, if necessary.

The Officials

Brad Watson #23

Watson is a 17-year veteran, with 849 games under his belt between regular season and the playoffs. Tonight’s game will be his league-leading 14th appearance in this year’s postseason.

The native of Regina, Saskatchewan, has refereed six Kings games this season. His three playoff matches were all victories; two one-goal home wins over the Sharks and a 3-2 win over the Blues. In the regular season, Los Angeles went 1-2 under Watson. Chicago has been graced with Watson’s officiating presence on five occasions. They went 1-1 in the playoffs, winning 3-1 over Detroit and losing 3-2 to the Wild. The Hawks were undefeated in regular season games with Watson, posting a 3-0 record.

Watson has a supporter in Craig Button:

Chris Rooney #5

Rooney, a 38-year-old Boston native, is the junior official in this pairing. He’s officiated just three games for Los Angeles this year, their Game 4 loss to the Sharks in the second round and two regular season games – a loss to the Coyotes and a win over the Predators. Rooney’s worked four Hawks games in 2013. He was on ice for the Game 2 loss and the Game 6 victory over Detroit in the playoffs, as well as for a pair or regular season wins over the Wings and Blue Jackets.

Rooney gets a thumbs up from ESPN’s John Buccigross:

Not everyone agrees.  That Game 4 loss to the Sharks wasn’t pretty. Mayors Manor shared this quote from Kings forward Dustin Penner on a questionable goaltender intereference call by Chris Rooney on Trevor Lewis that ultimately led to the Sharks’ game-winning goal:

“I find it very tough to believe that a player as intelligent as Trevor would run the goalie. I asked him and he said he was pushed from behind. I believe him. I’m disappointed in the refs that they could make a gutsy call like that in the last 30 seconds of a period. It’s pretty impressive when you have enough gall to guess. I’m going to look at the tape and see if he got pushed because I know what it is like to drive the net.”

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What Does it Mean?

The Hawks are terrible with the man advantage away from the Madhouse on Madison. They’ve scored just once in the playoffs, a power play marker from Hossa in Game 6 against the Red Wings, giving them a 5.6% conversion rate. Overall, they haven’t been much better in this series, going 1-for-8 (12.5%) so far in the series against Los Angeles. The Kings’ penalty killers have been terrific at home, allowing just one goal in 21 opportunities (95.2%). The last time that happened was exactly a month ago, in the Kings’ Game 3 home victory over the Blues.

The Kings’ power play has been average at best, converting only 17.0% of its opportunities – 16.0% at the Staples Center. Chicago’s penalty killers are the best in the league. They’ve allowed only two goals – one at home and one on the road – and are shutting down 96.2% of opponents’ power plays.

So the Blackhawks can’t score on the power play, and they don’t let the opposition score on theirs.

Both Watson and Rooney call more penalties than average, so this game should have some opportunities. As they – like most of the officials – favor the home team, expect a slight imbalance with one or two more calls against Chicago. Given their second-period weighting, more calls will come then.


  • 9 penalties – 5 on Chicago, 4 on the Kings.
  • By period: 3 – 4 – 2