Nicklas Backstrom’s penalty for high sticking in the final two minutes of Sunday’s game against the Columbus Blue Jackets, and the subsequent inability of the Capitals to kill off the penalty, cost Washington the game.
The worst part, though, is it shouldn’t have been a penalty at all.
The play in question saw Blue Jackets captain Nick Foligno bringing the puck up through the Columbus zone late in the third period when Backstrom, rolling off a check, spun and attempted to lift Foligno’s stick. The result was a wild swinging motion upwards, and from the broadcast angle, it looked as though Foligno had been caught in the face by Backstrom’s stick. On closer inspection, though, it wasn’t even that close.
From both angles the Blue Jackets’ broadcast showed, one from the far end and the other from the same corner where the infraction occurred, it’s evident Backstrom’s stick missed Foligno’s face and helmet, instead waving inches in front of Foligno:
Amazingly, Backstrom wasn’t as incensed as one would maybe expect him to be, instead voicing his displeasure before taking a seat in the box and shaking his head in disapproval. And it’s from his seat in the box he would watch his minor penalty cost the Capitals. Less than halfway through the Columbus power play, Blue Jackets’ center Alexander Wennberg notched what would stand as the game-winner.
Following the contest, Backstrom said he “didn’t touch (Foligno),” according to WashingtonCapitals.com’s Mike Vogel, adding that “if you get a penalty that's not a penalty, that's tough,” especially when it comes in the final two minutes. And Capitals coach Barry Trotz expanded on that, saying that Foligno’s snap of the head and sell of the call was “disrespectful to the game.”
"I hope the league looks at that," Trotz said, according to Vogel. "If you look at it, that's not — you can see on the replay he doesn't really touch him, and [Foligno's] head pops up when Backy's stick is already on the way down…That’s just a little bit disrespectful to the game. The league will look at that, and they have fines for that, so I'm sure that will be something that they took advantage of. I wouldn't be too happy about it as a referee.”
Trotz absolutely has a point about Foligno’s head moving without contact being made, but it’s not hard to see the argument from Foligno’s perspective, either.
Whether the stick made contact or not, it waved right in front of his face, and his head snap seemed as much a flinch or subconscious reaction as it did an intentional embellishment. Foligno didn’t grab at his face or go to the ice to sell the call, and he has no history of being fined for diving or embellishment.
Regardless of Foligno’s intent, though, it’s hard to argue with Backstrom. A power play goal against on what absolutely shouldn’t have been a penalty is a tough way to lose.
Want more in-depth features and expert analysis on the game you love? Get 10 issues of The Hockey News magazine for just $15.99!