Game 11 Recap: Zebra Crossing

Kirk Irwin

The Blue Jackets didn't do themselves many favors tonight against the Anaheim Ducks, but some questionable officiating had a major impact on the game, and could have long term repercussions for Jackets C Brandon Dubinsky.

"This is BULLSHIT."
-Xander Cage

I'm going to try to keep this one fairly clean and straight, but I'm also going to deviate a bit from our usual format because I think this is a game that, despite only having 10,000 fans in attendance because nobody in Columbus gives a damn about the Anaheim Ducks on an NFL Sunday, a lot of fans already have seen quite a bit on, and will be making their own assessments.

This game had a strange tone from the start, when   what appeared to be a goal by Brandon Dubinsky was called back after replay determined that Cam Atkinson had moved the puck away from a scrum around the net with his glove and not his stick. This was generally forgiven, however, after Blake Comeau sniped a beauty of a slapper past Frederik Andersen after being fed a gorgeous pass by Ryan Johansen.

Then things got a bit more concerning when Artem Anisimov was laid out on a high hit by Francois Beauchemin, and the only penalty to come out of a fairly major scrum was Nick Foligno being charged for roughing. Fortunately, however, Anisimov returned to the ice and the Jackets were able to kill the penalty, so again, no harm, no foul?

Fans began to feel more concerned, however, when several rather questionable plays went by without comment from the officials, and the Ducks seemed to get more and more chippy.

The Jackets kept the 1-0 lead through 20 minutes, but that would fade almost as soon as the second period began, thanks to Ryan Getzlaf slipping one past Sergei Bobrovsky before the goaltender could get down to seal his pads against the ice.

Things looked even more concerning when Bobrovsky would let a second goal through from Peter Holland, who let fly from almost at the plane of the goal line, squeaking between Bob's elbow and the post.

The Jackets looked completely lost up until that point, entirely giving up the momentum they'd some painstakingly built in the first period, and seemed in danger of losing any control of the game when Jack Johnson was sent off for a roughing call that looked nearly identical to a "clean" hit that Beauchemin had thrown on Marian Gaborik at the other end of the ice.

That power play for the Ducks seemed to be a turning point, though, as the Jackets engaged aggressively on the PK and Brandon Dubinsky came up big in another penalty killing situation, tearing up ice on a rush with Anisimov, then springing Arty through the defense for a breakaway that would end in the second shorthanded goal in as many games.

After the goal, the Jackets seemed to be energized, finally getting some pressure on the Ducks and pushing the play into the Anaheim zone rather than being hemmed in, but there was another turn for this story to take in the final minute of the frame.

As the Jackets defended against a late Anaheim push, Dubinsky would be moving up the ice and looking to defend against the Ducks' Saku Koivu. The veteran forward got rid of the puck a moment before the two would collide, and brought his stick up off the ice in an attempt to brace himself for the hit. Dubinsky would catch Koivu in the arm and chest with his shoulder, and Koivu's stick snapped backwards, striking him hard across the face.

Play continued, and the Ducks' Cam Fowler would charge #17, crosschecking him as Sergei Bobrovsky stopped the puck, but no penalty appeared to be called until after it was clear that Koivu was having difficulty getting up off the ice.

The Anaheim trainers attended to Koivu before helping him off, and while the initial reaction is likely a head injury of some kind, I would note that when Koivu attempted to stand, he also appeared to be having a lot of difficulty putting weight on his right leg, which appears to have gotten twisted during the hit. I've no doubt that he was shaken up, but I suspect that may turn out to be the larger concern. Fortunately, though, the Ducks did announce that he didn't require any X-rays for his jaw, so hopefully he'll be back on the ice soon.

The referees conferred following the stoppage of play, and the result was that Dubinsky was issued a major penalty for elbowing and a game misconduct, ejecting him from the game.

To say that the crowd was rather displeased was an understatement. Booing continued through the final 30 seconds of play and well into the intermission as the players and officials left the ice.

As to the hit, well, what can we say? The GIF I link above shows pretty clearly that Koivu did the damage to himself. Puck Daddy makes the point that Dubinsky's hit may have been a bit late, but that would be more worthy of a 2 minute interference call, if that.  Justin Bourne of The Score also felt the penalty was questionable, while CBC personality Steve Glynn felt that while there was some head contact, there was no intent to injure on the play.

Even more frustratingly, this call wasn't even made by the actual referees - per Aaron Portzline, the call came from one of the linesmen.

In the third period, the Ducks would take a 3-2 lead thanks to Emerson Etem cleaning up the rebound from a Teemu Selanne shot, while Artem Anisimov would pull the Jackets back into a tie with his second of the night, redirecting a James Wisniewski shot from the point.

The Jackets had several more opportunites and near-miss chances, but the Ducks were able to slow the game down and force the Jackets to play at their pace, denying them opportunities to use their speed or drive to the net.

Thoughts of overtime were starting to appear when fate had one last pebble for the Jackets' collective shoes. Working back in their own zone,  Ryan Johansen took the puck and attempted to play it off the end boards to a waiting Fedor Tyutin. Instead, the shot would carom out and go straight to Corey Perry, who outwaited Sergei Bobrovsky when he attempted to challenge him at the side of the net, and shot the puck in for a 4-3 lead.

The Jackets would finally get a power play for the first time of the night in the final minute after Marian Gaborik was hauled down to the ice in front of Andersen, and after taking his time out coach Todd Richards would send Bobrovsky to the bench for a two man advantage.

The Jackets attempted to force OT, but their best two chances could not be capitalized on because there wasn't a skater down low at the side of the net to sweep up the loose puck following a rebound.

I don't have to tell you who would normally be in that position on the ice during a power play, do I?

The clock would run out on their efforts, and the crowd would go home frustrated and discontent.

I don't want to totally excuse this game because of some questionable calls / non-calls. Frankly, the club totally failed to get themselves in gear for the bulk of the second period, and made some pretty atrocious mistakes in the third. They were given a couple of gift wrapped chances tonight, but didn't work to bring them to completion. Bob let in a couple of goals that were just plain bad. Marian Gaborik was conspicuously absent for much of the night. If Friday night was an example of the club winning as a team, this was a pretty clear example of them losing as a team.

But with that said, this was also a night where the officials pretty clearly altered the game, and the rather unbalanced observance of penalty calls by the referees and linesmen made it feel like they were trying to dictate a narrative, not respond to the actual play on the ice. That's not fair to either team, regardless of the results.

When asked if he thought Dubinsky would receive any supplementary discipline, head coach Todd Richards said he simply didn't know. He thought the hit was clean, but he admitted that it's very difficult to predict what will happen. The seemingly arbitrary handling of what should be universally applied rules means that no one knows what is a good hit, what could get you put in the penalty box, what could get you ejected, what could get you suspended. It shouldn't be surprising that players are getting hurt with increasing frequency if nobody knows where any of the lines are going to be drawn.

The NHL is trying to make the game safer. That's to be applauded. But if the enforcement of the rules remains this subjective, it's virtually impossible to make players respect them.

For tonight? The Jackets will sit. They will think about what happened. They will have almost a week to play this one over in their heads before they have to go to Pittsburgh to take on the Penguins. I suspect that we're going to see some very motivated skaters come Friday.

Dubinsky's match penalty means that he's suspended until the incident is reviewed by the Commissioner, which is normally assigned to the Department of Player Safety. He has no history of suspensions, though he has been fined in the past. The league could easily rescind the match penalty tomorrow, leaving him eligible for the weekend. Or he could be left to stew a few days while they review the footage. All he can do, at this point, is wait.

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