By Stu Hackel
The Kings are struggling, having lost 10 of 12, so this goal, credited to the Coyotes' Martin Hanzal, which broke a scoreless tie in the second period and was ultimately the game winner on Thursday night, was not likely to go over well. It surely looked like a bad goal to the Kings and their fans, having been knocked in by a high stick, but it counted and the reaction from GM Dean Lombardi may prove a bit costly.
All four on-ice officials ruled that Hanzal made contact with the puck at a point on his stick that was lower than the crossbar, and that makes it a good goal. But they took it to replay to be sure, and after a delay of around five minutes, there was no angle that replay officials in Toronto, led by NHL VP Mike Murphy, a former Kings player and coach, could find that conclusively presented evidence to overturn the ruling on the ice. When that happens, the call stands.
Lombardi went ballistic after the game. "When the guy in Toronto making the decisions on the goals, in Ottawa and the one tonight, wanted the G.M.'s job in L.A. and was not happy about not getting it, you have to assume you are going to get those type of calls,'' Lombardi said in a story by Rich Hammond on the Kings website. "However, we have put ourselves in a position where these calls have a monumental effect on our season, and we're going to have to find a way out of it ourselves.''
("Lombardi's reference to Ottawa was about the Kings' Nov. 22 game in Ottawa against the Senators, in which on-ice officials waved off Ryan Smyth's potential game-tying goal with three seconds remaining in the third period and the video-review crew in Toronto did not rule it a good goal," Hammond wrote.)
For Lombardi to question Murphy's integrity is ludicrous and offensive, and the NHL could slap him with a fine. Murphy and his staff review every goal -- and lots of no goals -- all season and do a very commendable job. Do they get every one right? No. And Hanzal's may be one they didn't, but they certainly did the best they could given what they had to work with. The Kings telecast and the league's own overhead cameras -- useless in this call -- were all that were available (there was no Phoenix telecast) and no one can honestly say the video above definitively shows contact above the crossbar.
But to imply that Murphy is enacting some kind of vengeance on the Kings for his not getting hired by the club at some earlier time is a pretty insidious remark and a malicious attempt to smear the character and honesty of a good hockey man.
TSN's Darren Dreger tweeted earlier today that he found the quote "outrageous" and added later, "The NHL will first confirm the authenticity of the quote by speaking to Lombardi. Once confirmed he\Kings will likely face discipline."
[UPDATE: The NHL has fined Lombardi $50,000 for his comments and Lombardi has apologized for them. "I called Mike Murphy and apologized first thing this morning," Lombardi said (quoted by Mike Brophy of Sportsnet.ca). "He was very professional and a bigger man than me."]
Kings coach Terry Murray wasn't too pleased either. "I don't know why we have video replay in the National Hockey League,'' he said. "That's all I can say. If the replay is there for review of goals and non-goals… I don't know. You've got a guy who gets credit for the goal. He's 6-foot-6, and the stick is up above his head. Matt Greene is 6-3, and he's batting the puck down with his hand beside his ear, and the net is four feet high. It doesn't add up.
"It makes no sense. No sense. How does it get called on the ice a goal, first of all, and then how does the replay hold it up? I don't know. I don't have an answer.''
When video replay was instituted in 1991, goal/no-goal calls resulting from high sticks was not one of the original reviewable instances -- and for good reason: The angles shown on TV that are used to determine the height of the puck and the stick relative to the crossbar are most often deceptive. When seen from above ice level, it's almost impossible to tell for certain what the relative heights are. And, as the video above shows, even at ice level, where the heights are closer to accurate, bodies can get in the way and obscure the replay reviewer's vision of the play. The four on-ice officials have a much better chance of seeing the play more clearly than the one stationary camera outside the glass.
Nevertheless, in the mid-90s, the NHL added a few instances of replay-able calls, one being if a player on the scoring team was in the goal crease prior to the puck crossing the goal line. ( This was later rescinded after Brett Hull's Stanley Cup-winning goal for Dallas in 1999 forced the rule to be changed.) With the high stick rule, the thinking was that if any video angles could be found to help get the call right, it would be worth it. And if no angle helped, it would be as before and the referee's ruling would be final.
As it has turned out, very few high stick calls are settled by replay. Most of the time, this review proves fruitless and the call goes back to the one made on the ice. That's what happened with Hanzal's goal.
That Coyotes' first goal was followed by another bizarre tally just under a minute after play had resumed after the delay for video review. The Kings came oh-so-close to tying the game -- which would have been a great response -- when Michal Handzus backhanded a shot that went off goalie Ilya Bryzgalov's arm, skipped along the goalpost and was picked up by the Coyotes, who went the other way. A two-on-one developed and...
...Lee Stempniak beat Jonathan Quick, making the score 2-0. Murray said the long replay "disrupted the flow of the game. Both teams were skating well, but when you take a long break like that there’s no question that it throws a wrench in the gears for the next couple of shifts."
That was it for the scoring, and with the exception of that one odd-man rush, the Kings did their job defensively all game. They allowed the Coyotes only 15 shots, a season low for L.A, and they took 36.
But they also didn't score. They have only two goals in their past three games and are 0-6 on the power play; 0-12 in their last three games. Afterward, defenseman Jack Johnson ...
...wondered if the Kings' problems creating offense have to do with their inability to generate speed through the neutral zone and their backing off the opposition's defenses, habitually chipping the puck in and chasing it. That's a question for Murray who, while he didn't have any answers on video replay, may have one for Johnson.
As Johnson said, the Kings are starting to run out games. The schedule still has over two months to go, but it's going to take a very hot team to climb back into the race and become the club that many thought it was coming into season. Right now, the Kings are not that team and blaming their losses others won't change that.