It seems that every year some unheralded aspect of the game comes to light during the NHL playoffs. This year is no exception with much discussion, debate, and even letters to editors about the testy subject of face-offs. No doubt other topics have been written about and game analyses have been produced but this topic has many scratching their heads.
As teams make their way through the first round of the play-offs, meeting up every couple of days, they often develop what is referred to as a “good hate” for their opponent. Spats on and off the ice occur, wars of words in the media and more physical battles in the corners take place. But a quick scan of media indicates that fans are more irked by what they perceive as a waste of time at best, and a manipulation of the game at worst. Namely the frustrating yet simple face-off.
According to NHL Rule 76.4
The sticks of both players facing-off shall have the blade on the ice, within the designated white area. The visiting player shall place his stick within the designated white area first followed immediately by the home player.
That sounds simple enough and even if you allow for players being keyed-up and anxious and perhaps encroaching for time to time, there shouldn’t be too much trouble. Most players admit that a little cheating takes place on most face-offs, and those who cheat best win most face-offs. Watching from home on TV or even at the game, the subtleties are lost on the fans. What one player gets turfed out of the face-off circle for, another seems to get away with. However the biggest problem appears to be hesitation on the part of the officials. Drop the damn puck!
Linesmen holding the puck in front of players while waiting for them to be precisely in position is a wee bit like teasing a Doberman with a cookie, sooner or later that dog is going to take the cookie on his terms. I’m still waiting for a player to knock the puck out of a lineman’s hand.