Scouting The Refs: Stanley Cup Final – Game 1

Game One of the Stanley Cup Finals kicks off tonight at the United Center.  Taking the ice in Chicago will be four men who will have a profound impact on the game – the officials.

Chris Rooney and Brad Watson are tonight’s referees.  The linesmen will be Shane Heyer and Jonny Murphy.

This is just the third time Rooney and Watson have worked together this postseason. They also officiated the Hawks’ 3-2 victory over the Kings in Game 4 and the Bruins’ 3-0 defeat of the Pens in Game 1. That Pittsburgh game was a rough one that threatened to spiral out of control. Tempers flared after Matt Cooke’s hit from behind on Adam McQuaid that resulted in a major penalty. After Brad Marchand was assessed two-minutes for a similar hit, frustrations boiled over.  The two captains – Crosby and Chara – jawed at each other as Evgeni Malkin and Patrice Bergeron dropped the gloves for an unlikely scrap.

Chris Rooney #5

Rooney, 38, is a Boston native.  Hawks fans will hope his love for his hometown doesn’t factor into his play calling.  So far this postseason, it hasn’t.   The Bruins average 10.2 penalty minutes per game; Rooney calls them for an average of 12.3 minutes per game.  Their opposition gets penalized about the same amount.  In Rooney-officiated Bruins games in both the regular season and playoffs, the Bruins average 13.1 minutes per game while their opponents average 13.3.

The Bruins are undefeated in playoff games worked by Rooney, going 3-0 in wins against the Penguins, Rangers, and Maple Leafs. In the regular season, they were winless, posting an 0-4 record when Rooney donned the stripes. The Blackhawks are 4-1 this year under Rooney.  They went a perfect 2-0 in the regular season and 2-1 in the playoffs, winning one against the Kings and splitting games against the Wings.

This is the second straight year Rooney has worked the Stanley Cup Finals. Last year, he was paired with Dan O’Rourke.  This year, he’ll suit up alongside long-time official Brad Watson.

Brad Watson #23

Watson, a 17-year veteran, is making his seventh Stanley Cup Finals appearance.  The Bruins are undefeated under the watchful eye of Watson, going 5-0 with three playoff victories – one win each over Pittsburgh, New York, and Toronto.  Chicago hasn’t performed quite as well when the Saskatchewan-born Watson is on the ice.  They went 3-0 in the regular season but only 1-2 in the playoffs, defeating the Kings in Game 4 but dropping road matches to the Wings and Wild.

Watson is the only official left in the playoffs who worked Hawks games in all four rounds of the playoffs.  This is Watson’s first playoff appearance at the United Center this postseason. He’s averaging 7.7 minor penalties called per game – right on par with the league average across

What Does It Mean?

In Game One of the Stanley Cup Finals, it’s anyone’s guess.

Rooney and Watson tend to call fewer minor penalties than Wes McCauley and Dan O’Halloran, the other officiating pair for the finals.  They keep it even when looking at home vs. road teams.  Because of that, expect a low-but-balanced number of power play opportunities for each club.  These two veteran officials are two of the best at letting the players dictate the game.  They’ll send off two guys with matching minors if necessary to keep the game in check, but just as easily look the other way.

Can these teams take advantage of their power play chances?  Boston’s power play (15.6%) is actually better on the road, where they’ve converted 21.0% of their opportunities this postseason. None of those goals came against Pittsburgh.  The Bruins’ last goal with the man advantage came back in Game 5 against the Rangers.

Even worse with the man advantage are the Chicago Blackhawks, at 13.7% overall. In the Windy City, they’re significantly better, clicking at a 20.7% rate.

As much as the power play may factor in, these teams have been doing a terrific job of shutting down their opponents with the man advantage.  Chicago’s 94.8% penalty kill leads all playoff teams.  While Boston’s 86.5% kill rate doesn’t look as impressive, they were a perfect 15-for-15 in their four-game sweep of the Pittsburgh Penguins.

In a close series, one goal can make a big difference.  It may come down to a power play marker.  Watch Rooney and Watson call an even game – expect a balanced number of penalties for each side along with a balanced amount of missed calls each way.  These veterans will do their best to let the players decide the winner of Game One of the Stanley Cup Finals.