The Montreal Canadiens got whip-sawed by the Tampa Bay Lightning Sunday night, losing the game and their composure. The Habs took way too many dumb penalties and in the process, released the Steven Stamkos Kraken – 'Stammer' got his first goal of the 2015 playoffs, while adding two assists. And the Lightning's previously feckless power play went 4-for-8 in a 6-2 romp.
By the end of the game, Habs tough guy Brandon Prust had racked up 31 PIM, including a 10-minute misconduct that followed his fight with Braydon Coburn – which followed his sneaky trip of goaltender Ben Bishop. He also threw his elbow pad into Tampa's bench.
After the game, Prust said referee Brad Watson "tries to play God," and that the veteran likes to control the game. Obviously Prust was angry at how things turned out, but does he have a point? Let's look at Watson's stats.
Oh, you didn't know refs had stats? Of course they do! Scouting the Refs is a neat web site that tallies up how every NHL zebra calls the game.
If Watson does indeed like to control the game, you would assume that he'd call a lot of penalties. But looking at the data, the veteran falls squarely in the middle of the league, at 4.1 per game. That's the same as peers such as Dave Jackson and Greg Kimmerly, who have also worked in the world's best league for years.
You could also hypothesize that a controller might overcompensate for home-ice advantage by dinging the host team more than the visitors, but home teams received just 47 percent of penalties in Watson games, making him one of the more friendly refs in the league (well-known refs Francois St-Laurent and Dan O'Halloran are even nicer). So by that logic, Montreal should have been in an advantageous situation here.
Prust also claimed that Watson cursed a blue streak at him as the burly left winger went to the box. I don't read lips, so I'll leave that up in the air, but personally, the NHL is a Big Boy League and I can't imagine there were words used that Prust was unfamiliar with.
Should officials be held to a certain standard of language? That's up to the head of officiating to decide. For me, I'd say you can swear as much as you allow: No booting players just for cursing if you're going to curse and no swearing yourself if you give guys the gate for sailor talk.
Now let's turn our attention to Prust. He did a lot of counter-productive things in Game 2, but I can't entirely fault him. This is the playoffs and Montreal is trying to win a series. The Habs don't have the talent to hang with Tampa Bay and since the Bolts have no fear of Carey Price, Montreal's one trump card is the wrong color.
So Prust, in his Machiavellian way, tried to stir up the Bolts and send a message for Game 3: Bishop is being targeted and the Lightning will have to fight Prust to stop it from happening. Is targeting a goaltender the way hockey should be played? Wouldn't be my strategy, but I'm just writing words here – Prust is trying to raise the Stanley Cup he and his teammates have dreamed about since they were kids.
I get what Prust was trying to do and if the NHL isn't happy, I'm sure they will let him know. Tampa Bay has already figured out a solution to their opponent's tactics – score a lot – and that may be the most persuasive form of punishment.