For about three years now, tin foil hat wearing, conspiracy theorist hockey fans have been living under the delusion that the Penguins have commissioner Gary Bettman, and the league's officials, in their back pockets. It's all part of a diabolical scheme designed to push the Penguins into the postseason, or so I've read.
Saturday's 4-3 win over the Rangers, which saw the Penguins get nine power plays (including a very questionable call on Colton Orr) sparked those feelings from more than a few Rangers fans across the web.
Take, for example, the fist-shaking reaction from Rangers blog, Rangers Report:
You all just saw why I don't want to play the Penguins in the playoffs. In a game where it looked like Crosby's parents were refereeing the game, the Rangers had to kill off 10 separate penalties; including an unmerited major on Colton Orr. I have said it before and I will say it again: the Rangers didn't play a great game but there is nothing you can do about bad refereeing. I don't care that Sidney Crosby is the NHL's golden boy and the Penguins are the NHL's team; call the game fair. The Penguins had 10, you read that correct 10, power plays to the Rangers five. Yeah that's really fair. Especially when I watched Antropov get tripped up and Crosby pull a blatant pick and nothing is called. Yet somehow Orr checks Eaton, granted the check was a little high, and he gets a five minute major penalty. Then the ref looked at Tortorella and basically said: "I just called it because it's against the Penguins." Good work NHL, keep on keeping on.Yikes.
While he's correct the Penguins had nine power plays on Saturday, it's worth pointing out two of them came in the final minute of regulation on obvious tripping calls as the Rangers attempted to prevent the Penguins from scoring into an empty net. Plus, two of them (including the very questionable five-minute major to Orr) were cut short by penalties on the Penguins, as one of those "power plays" lasted all of four seconds.
Scotty Hockey has a far more rational recap of the game, placing the blame for the Rangers' loss where it belongs -- on the Rangers -- but still manages to sneak in one quick line regarding the black helicopters that circle Mellon Arena on game day:
Much like the other three games in Pittsburgh, the Blueshirts had no chance at winning this one, being outworked by a more talented team from the start. The usual tough officiating in Pittsburgh didn't help, but wasn't as painful as the two incredibly soft goals Henrik Lundqvist allowed.Ah, the usual "tough officiating in Pittsburgh." Of course, I'm not sure I'd say the Rangers had "no chance" of winning. After all, it was a one-goal game, and the Rangers had a great scoring chance late in the third period to potentially tie the game, only to have Marc-Andre Fleury come up with a huge save.
Having said all of that, let's take a look at every team in the NHL and compare their power play opportunities to the times they've been shorthanded. Do the Penguins have a favorable advantage over the course of the season? A slight one, yes. But they're not the only team, and certainly not the team benefiting the most. These numbers are as of prior to this weekend's action.
Didn't expect to see the Hurricanes or Coyotes at the top of that list.
Instead of the NHL having some sort of bias toward any one individual team, the more logical explanation is that officiating across the NHL is alarmingly inconsistent (and I think we'll all agree on that point).
The other logical explanation is that, simply, some teams are disciplined, while others, are not. For example, is it really a surprise to see Philadelphia in its current position? This is a team that went out and traded for Daniel Carcillo, the most penalized man in the NHL the past two years, at the trade deadline. This team absolutely embraces the rough stuff. They're also one of the better penalty killing teams in the league, while also scoring a league-leading 16 shorthanded goals. At least they can back it up.
The Hurricanes, meanwhile, have failed to really capitalize on their numerous advantages, currently possessing the No. 20 power play unit in the NHL, converting at a 17.7 percent clip.