This year’s Stanley Cup Playoffs have been marred by a record number of suspensions, nasty head shots, ugly fights, and repeated meltdowns of respect, especially in the Philadelphia-Pittsburgh Eastern Conference series.
Heading into this year’s opening round of the playoffs, the one series that would be expected to feature plenty of open ice skating with few penalties and a minimal amount of special team play would have been the Nashville Predators and Detroit Red Wings.
During the regular season, the Predators were the least penalized team in the league with only 8.4 penalty minutes per game. Detroit was the second most disciplined team with an almost identical 8.5 minutes per game so there was little there to predict the parade of players to the penalty box that has resulted through four games.
When looking at minor penalties, Detroit has been cited 22 times and the Predators have been charged on 24 occasions leading to plenty of power play time for both squads. Only Pittsburgh and Philadelphia have headed to the box more for two minute segments and that series has been a unique exception in playoff hockey.
Only two majors have been accessed in the Preds-Wings series and that involved Shea Weber answering the call from Todd Bertuzzi as repayment for Weber’s over-aggressive work on Henrik Zetterberg’s helmet against the glass at the end of game one.
That one bit of bad blood was dealt with in a gentlemanly way with the “one and done” fight and the animosity did not carry forward into further play.
On Wednesday’s off day, Predator head coach Barry Trotz discussed the surprising rise in penalties. “We are the two least penalized teams in the National Hockey League so when each team could have five or six every game, that doesn’t make any sense when you look at that.”
He opined about the sudden rise in penalties, “Both teams are going at the net harder. It’s different than the other series. It’s “nasty” in a grinding area. There’s a lot of stuff that is done in really close quarters. There isn’t any of that blatant stuff you see in some of the other series.”
“It’s hard out there but there is probably a higher respect factor in our series than in some of the others so you don’t see some of the very blatant things,” Trotz continued. “You are getting more of those battles where a guy gets hooked up with another guy, or extends their arms for a hold, or trips a guy in the battles, so it is different and I don’t think either coach expected that to be the case.”
Predators defenseman, Kevin Klein felt the officials were keeping the match under control. “It is definitely physical and they (officials) have been calling it a little tighter. Some of the things you may not have seen during the rest of the season, they’ve been calling. Detroit only took three penalties (in game four) so they were very disciplined.”
Klein offered his theory on the roughness of play in the other series, ” It is the intensity of the playoffs. You have a lot of rivalries going on. You’d like to see the guys have a little more respect for each other. You want to play the game hard but within the rules as much as possible.”
“It’s mostly split-second reactions and something that is going to happen every once and a while but you don’t like to see it on the scale that we have in the first round.”
Parity is one of the things Trotz mentioned for the explosion of suspensions in the opening round of the playoffs. “There are eight teams in the Western Conference that believe that they can win the Stanley Cup so that is a fine line and the competitive juices are ramped up.”
The Predators were happy with Wednesday’s day off. Trotz explained how tough the series had been on his players. “With the penalty kills that we’ve had to kill off, they are taxing on your top players. It taxes the Marty Erat’s, the Fisher’s, the Weber’s, the Suter’s, and the Klein’s so they all get taxed pretty heavily along with Pekka in net, so getting a couple of days off will do us some good.”
Trotz indicated that the team has yet to play their best game and is looking for better play on Friday night. “You don’t want to give up as many chances as we did. When you take seven penalties, they get so many chances on the power play, so we have to stay out of the box – that’s discipline, and that’s details.”
Further, in regards to game five, Trotz knows the level of commitment that will be needed. “This might be the hardest thing we have to do in terms of effort, detail, and commitment – to get the fourth win in the series.”