By Stu Hackel
The Hurricanes lost to the Capitals, 3-2, on Sunday night and the game changed on this play...
...as Carolina's Tim Gleason hit Washington's Mathieu Perreault near the end of the first period. It was a shot that sure looked like it targeted the head -- despite Hurricanes TV analyst Tripp Tracy's contention -- but was not punished under the new Rule 48 that prohibits blindside or lateral blows to the head. That rule has been criticized as a half-measure in some quarters (including by former referee Kerry Fraser, who has called for the rule to include all hits to the head), but the NHL says it has seen a decrease in targeting of the head because the new rule is in place.
In the Gleason hit, the bloody mess that became Perreault's face happened when he put his stick up to ward off Gleason's shoulder. The stick snapped and so did Perreault's face shield. Just how is not entirely clear, but Perreault's nose was broken (Yahoo's Puck Daddy blogger/editor Greg Wyshynski has a darling photo of a smiling Perreault on the Caps' airplane, taken by teammate John Carlson, if you'd like to see the aftermath) and he was gone for the game.
Perreault had scored the game's first goal earlier in the period (video) on a play in which Gleason ran into the corner chasing the puck and left Perreault alone in front. Gleason was not going to skate away from Perreault again.
Tracy called the offending hit a "North-South play," but Gleason certainly didn't approach Perreault from in front. It was much closer to a lateral hit, but not lateral enough to warrant punishment under Rule 48. Instead, referees Paul Devorski and Francois St. Laurent, who conferred for quite a while before making the call, penalized Gleason in a different way, giving him a charging major, a 10 minute misconduct, and a game misconduct.
Losing Gleason for the game upset Carolina coach Paul Maurice (video, at the end of this clip) since it cost him his top defensive defenseman. "I didn't care for it at all," he added (quoted in The Raleigh News-Observer), although Maurice hadn't been using Gleason against Alex Ovechkin, who scored the game-winner...
...and whose line was in the process of coming on when he set up the second goal by Washington's David Steckel (video). Maurice used Joe Corvo and Joni Pitkanen against Ovechkin's line while Gleason and his partner Jamie McBain skated against Perreault, Alexander Semin and Brooks Laich -- a pretty good threesome. Against a high-powered offense like the Caps', the impact of losing Gleason can't be minimized.
The game misconduct was assessed as prescribed in the rulebook, "when a major penalty is imposed under this rule for a foul resulting in an injury to the face or head of an opponent," which it was. The question is: was the charging call justified?
Gleason doesn't appear to charge Perreault in the obvious way that a player would just wind up and run another, with legs churning at full speed. Nor does he leap into Perreault. So what's the problem here?
We've come to think of charging as something that happens when a player leaves his feet to check an opponent, but it also can be called when a defender travels a distance to check the puck-carrier. Once upon a time, the standard for charging into an opponent was taking more than three strides to hit him. But that doesn't apply any longer. Rule 42 as it stands now reads: "Charging shall mean the actions of a player who, as a result of distance traveled, shall violently check an opponent in any manner. A 'charge' may be the result of a check into the boards, into the goal frame or in open ice."
On the play where Perreault was injured, Karl Alzner shoots the puck in along the wall on the left side as Perreault comes down the right. The puck caroms around the boards and Perreault plays it by having it ricochet off of him and back in the direction it came from. Gleason sees this developing after Alzner's shoot-in and is intent on hitting Perreault. When he begins his approach to Perreault, he's in the slot. Gleason skates through the faceoff circle and connects with Perreault along the boards. The circle alone is 30 feet across and there's another few feet before the boards. So Gleason did travel a distance to check Perreault.
Tracy said later on the telecast that he thought the penalty might have been assessed because of the injury to Perreaut, implying that if Perreault hadn't been reduced to a bloody mess (and the Caps' telecast had more graphic evidence of that than the Canes' did), there might have been no call at all. Perhaps that's true. An injury frequently increases the severity of league action, whether it's on the ice or in supplemental discipline.
But if Gleason had gone shoulder-to-shoulder instead of for Perreault's head, the gory scene of a broken nose would have been avoided. And perhaps the penalty might have been avoided as well.