Ken Hitchcock (Gerry Thomas/NHLI via Getty Images)
We’re only through one game of the Western Conference final, and already Blues coach Ken Hitchcock and Sharks coach Peter DeBoer have engaged in some gamesmanship. After DeBoer talked about the referees calling a tighter game, Hitchcock said he’s “not going to whine for calls.”
Combining the regular season and post-season, the St. Louis Blues have been shorthanded 318 times during the 2015-16 campaign, which is more than any other team in the league. And according to San Jose Sharks coach Peter DeBoer, the Blues should have had at least a couple more calls against them in Game 1 of the Western Conference final.
In the opening game of the Western Conference final, the Sharks were awarded three power plays. Two of those penalties against the Blues were called in the first frame, with the last coming midway through the final period. And regardless of how many perceived missed calls there may have been, three minor penalties is about on par for the Blues. Their 318 times shorthanded in 97 games this campaign works out to 3.28 times shorthanded per game.
“We're relying on the officials to do their job,” DeBoer said during the off-day Monday. “St. Louis is one of the most penalized teams in the league, regular season and playoffs. (The referees) need to call the game accordingly. (We) need to make them pay a price for being the most penalized team on the power play, which we didn't (in Game 1).”
As one would have guessed, though, Blues coach Ken Hitchcock didn’t take too kindly to DeBoer’s assertion that St. Louis should be heading to the box more often.
“We're told not to whine for calls, so we're not going to whine for calls,” Hitchcock said. “If Pete wants to do it, that's up to him, but we're not doing it.”
Pressed further, he said he wasn’t sure why DeBoer was angling for more penalties against the Blues, and Hitchcock added he, his staff and his players won’t get caught up in trying to plead their case for calls against the Sharks. Hitchcock said the Blues will instead “play it honest, but we’ll play hard. Let the refs decide.”
Say what you will for DeBoer asking for the game to be called tighter than it was Sunday evening, but the interpretation of what is and isn’t a penalty can be black and white during the regular season only to include a lot more grey area once the post-season rolls around. And if the calls aren’t going to be more frequent, DeBoer’s right in saying his team needs to make the most of the opportunities they do receive.
Entering the conference final, the Sharks had the best power play of any remaining team, operating at a 30.9 percent clip with 13 goals on 42 chances, and San Jose had a chance to feast on a Blues penalty kill that was sub-80 percent for the post-season. If San Jose had been able to capitalize on any of their three opportunities in Game 1, there’s a possibility the outcome would have been different. Instead, St. Louis penalty kill frustrated the Sharks’ power play, allowing them only five shots with the man advantage.
Whether or not DeBoer’s gamesmanship has any impact on the way Game 2 is called is to be seen, but regardless of how many times the Blues head to the penalty box, it’s up to the Sharks to find ways to breakdown the St. Louis penalty kill.