Monday notebook: On offside challenges, WJC outdoor games and Brandon Prust

Brian Pochmara (left) and Kelly Sutherland  (Photo by Len Redkoles/NHLI via Getty Images)

All right, picture this: It’s Game 7 of the Stanley Cup final and Team A scores the overtime winner about 20 seconds after gaining the zone. Team B uses a coach’s challenge, saying a forward from Team A was offside by a fraction of an inch on the zone entry. After a seven-minute delay to determine the right call, there is no conclusive evidence that the Team A forward was offside, and the goal stands and Team A finally gets to celebrate the Stanley Cup amid a mountain of controversy.

It could happen. And that would be terrible, but it beats ignoring the call entirely the way it was before coaches were allowed to challenge offsides on goals. To a lesser extent, that’s exactly what happened on Saturday when the Winnipeg Jets beat the Washington Capitals in overtime on this play:

Washington Capitals coach Barry Trotz said after the game that it was clear to him the Blake Wheeler’s skate was in the air when Jacob Trouba gained the zone more than 20 seconds prior to Mark Scheifele’s goal and it should have been ruled offside. Then he added: “You can’t have a play like that on a six-inch tablet. You better put it on a big screen.”

It’s easy to sympathize with Trotz because there are people who will look at that replay multiple times and agree with him. But the decision was not made in a vacuum, which was why it took seven minutes to make it. The way the offside challenge works is that the officials make the call, in consultation with the hockey operations office in Toronto and had anyone in that office thought Wheeler was truly offside, they would have let the officials know.

Here’s what happened. The guys in hockey operations viewed the first two angles they had of the goal, and deemed it was inconclusive as to whether Wheeler was offside or not. As the replays from different angles started to come to them, they passed them on to the officials.

“We watched this to the ‘nth’ degree because it was a game-winner,” said NHL’s senior vice-president, hockey operations. “We could not be 100 percent sure Wheeler’s toe was not on the ice.”

So there you have it. The fact is the NHL goes to great lengths to get these calls right every time. The officials are not watching replays from a $400 iPad here. They’re using an Atomos Shogun K4 monitor, the top of the line and one that has a picture superior to an HD television set. For the last minute of a game and overtime, there are two staff members watching for any plays that might be flagged. And they’re being backed up by others who are watching the goal from every angle on some of the best equipment money can buy. And even with all that technology, there are going to still be times where things are not 100 percent black and white.

But if you get to the point where the hockey operations guys are saying, “Well, we’re not sure, but it looks like offside, so call it offside,” well then you’ve basically sabotaged the entire process.

The point is, there will be calls like this one that are still going to be controversial. Some of them are going to take a long time to figure out and yes, a team that scores in overtime might have to wait around on the ice for 10 minutes to find out what the final call is. And from some people’s perspective, they might even still be wrong. But the fact of the matter is that far more calls are going to be right and that wasn’t the case before.

OUTDOORS IN 2017? With Buffalo organizers planning to hold an outdoor game as part of the festivities for the 2018 World Junior Championship, there are no plans at the moment to do the same thing when Toronto and Montreal host the tournament the year before.

Hockey Canada president Tom Renney said the possibility of an outdoor game, which would have been held in the round-robin portion of the tournament in Toronto, has not been discussed once. “We have a lot of other boxes to check off than an outdoor game,” Renney said.

But not that’s not the same as saying, “No, there will definitely not be an outdoor game in Toronto as part of the 2017 World Juniors,” and Renney acknowledged that, “anything can happen,” but I take Renney at his word when he says the outdoor game is not on the radar.

Which is a good thing. This is the World Junior Championship, not one of 82 regular season NHL games. The stakes are way too high to be adding a sideshow to all the other pressure the teenagers playing in this tournament face. And if some NHL team’s top prospect ends up getting seriously injured because of bad ice/weather conditions, you can bet that will be the last you ever see of an outdoor game at the WJC.

By the way, Hockey Canada remains totally committed to holding the non-Canada round-robin games and the playoff games in Montreal, despite unimpressive attendance figures in 2015.

AT LEAST HE GOT HIS MONEY’S WORTH: When Brandon Prust was asked for his thoughts about being fined $5,000 for spearing Brad Marchand in the privates over the weekend, he responded by saying, “Best money I ever spent.”

Well now, isn’t that wonderful. Prust is basically thumbing his nose at the NHL, saying in effect, “If you want to fine me 0.2 percent of my yearly salary and I get to stab one of the league’s most hated players in the junk, well, I’ll take that punishment anytime.”

Jabbing the tip of your stick into any part of an opponent’s body should be a suspension. But it’s merely a fine that amounts to a pittance, so players such as Prust get away with it with basically a slap on the wrist. And isn’t Prust supposed to be one of those guys who’s supposed to keep it safe out there for everyone? Once again, one of the league’s tough guys  perpetrates a crime that is supposed to be curtailed by tough guys.

Good thing teams have guys like Brandon Prust around to keep everyone safe from players like Brandon Prust.

Move over, Ovie – Evgeny Kuznetsov is Washington’s top Russian right now

Ryan Kennedy
Evgeny Kuznetsov (Jared Silber/NHLI via Getty Images)

Good things come to those who wait and the Washington Capitals were very patient with Evgeny Kuznetsov. Despite drafting the Russian center in 2010, Washington didn’t get to sample the kid’s skills until the second half of 2013-14. In fact, he was still Calder-eligible last season. But based on his pedigree, there was no way Kuznetsov would experience a sophomore slump this year and actually the opposite has been true: at 23 years of age, he has hit his NHL stride in a serious way with 26 points through 23 games.

That makes Kuznetsov the leading scorer on the Caps – ahead of Alex Ovechkin – and sixth overall in the NHL. Just don’t ask him if he’s comfortable playing here now.

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It’s a lot of fun to play on the same line as Alex Ovechkin

Ryan Kennedy
Alex Ovechkin and T.J. Oshie (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)

It’s actually been a couple of weeks now that the Washington Capitals have been dealing with questions about Alex Ovechkin breaking Sergei Fedorov’s record for goals by a Russian-born NHLer (geez, Alex, what took you so long?). Ovie finally did it last night against Dallas, so his teammates are now off the hook.

And to be fair, there’s only so many ways Evgeny Kuznetsov can say that he’s excited for Ovechkin and that the young Russian center had also watched Fedorov when he was growing up. But dutifully, the pivot did it one more time when I was in Washington recently and asked him what it’s like to actually play on a line with Ovechkin.

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Watch Alex Ovechkin score to become leading Russian goal scorer in NHL history

Jared Clinton
Alex Ovechkin (G. Flume/Getty Images)

After four scoreless games and a couple of called-back goals, Alex Ovechkin is officially the highest scoring Russian born player in NHL history.

Ovechkin came into Thursday’s contest against the Dallas Stars stuck at 483 career goals, tied with former teammate Sergei Fedorov for the most all-time by a Russian player in the NHL. In the third period, Ovechkin finally found the goal to give him his piece of history, though. As part of a net front scramble, Capitals center Nicklas Backstrom made a nifty no-look backhand pass that landed right on Ovechkin’s tape for a no-doubter: Read more

Why the Rangers and Capitals are due for a switch in the standings

Henrik Lundqvist (Mike Carlson/Getty Images)

By Malcolm Campbell

Like many hockey fans you are probably thinking the New York Rangers are the team to beat in the Metropolitan Division this year. And after watching Henrik Lundqvist blank the Carolina Hurricanes on Tuesday night, it’s hard to believe otherwise. King Henrik has indeed looked like royalty this season, and his backup, Antti Raanta, has put up even better numbers. The problem for both of them is their ridiculously high caliber play is the only thing standing between the Rangers and a drop in the standings.

The story told by advanced statistics is that the Metro division is due for a shakeup. The three teams atop the table right now are separated by four points in a battle of the NHL’s second-most competitive group. The Rangers are riding a six-game winning streak heading into Thursday and have only lost twice in regulation this year. Right behind them are the Washington Capitals, with two more regulation losses than the division leaders, and rounding out the top three are the Pittsburgh Penguins, also four points back. While Pittsburgh doesn’t seem to be on the same level, the season is young, and it seems the Rangers are due for a regression. The only problem for the Penguins though, Washington isn’t.

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Alex Ovechkin took 15 shots last night – but Petr Mrazek saved all of them

Alex Ovechkin (G. Flume/Getty Images)

I was thinking about the highly-anticipated Caps-Wings game last night before it started, about how Detroit would prepare for an evening when Washington captain Alex Ovechkin had the chance to break Sergei Fedorov’s record for most goals by a Russian-born NHLer.

Fedorov, who was just inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame, had been asked late last week about the impending milestone and told NHL.com that he hoped Ovechkin would wait until Tuesday’s game against Detroit to break his record (instead of the previous game vs. Toronto). He even dropped the ceremonial puck last night.

But in my head, I imagined Red Wings coach Jeff Blashill motivating his troops thusly:

“OK boys (that’s how all hockey speeches start), we know Ovechkin is gonna try to get that goal tonight and we know ‘Feds’ is hoping he does it here. But guess what? THAT RECORD DOES NOT GET BROKEN ON OUR ICE. ‘Feds’ wore the Winged Wheel with pride (never mind he also played with Ovechkin on the Caps – motivational speeches always contain poetic license) and No. 8 will just have score that goal some other time, ARE YOU WITH ME?????

I have no idea if this is how Blashill talks behind closed doors, but the fact is his netminder was a brick wall last night:

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Getting To Know: Dennis Hextall

Dennis Hextall (Steve Babineau/NHLI via Getty Images)

Status: Former NHL left winger from 1967-1980 with Los Angeles Kings, New York Rangers, California Golden Seals, Minnesota North Stars, Detroit Red Wings and Washington Capitals. Currently coaches hockey in Edwards, Colorado at Battle Mountain HS.

Ht: 5-11 Wt: 175 pounds
DOB: April 17, 1943 In: Poplar Point, M.B. Read more