Like other athletes and fans of the NHL, Ryan Hartman of the Minnesota Wild watched postseason hockey as the restart of the 2019-2020 season began. Hartman noticed an overwhelming trend during his binge.
He claimed there was a profuse amount of penalties being called. As reports now prove, Hartman’s views were not just perspective. In just the first two days of the Stanley Cup postseason, teams had an average of 13:00 penalty minutes.
The first round of the playoffs in 2019 averaged 10:05 penalty minutes per team, with the 2018 and 2017 playoffs not far off. That makes this year’s numbers considerably higher than the average for the past three seasons.
After Monday’s games, teams’ averages dropped to around 12:26 minutes. Regardless, that is still a higher average than the first two games in each of the three opening rounds.
It was evident in the first few days that someone in each game had the upper hand and advantage. There were an astounding 14 power plays in the Carolina Hurricanes’ first game versus the New York Rangers.
NHL coaches and athletes admit to considering the trend before postseason games in their respective “bubble.” Predators coach, John Hynes, claims it was an obvious observation while watching many of the games.
There are three potential reasons for this shift in the game.
The Reset Button Theory
Michael Grabner, an Arizona forward, claimed seeing so many calls in the game did not remind him of postseason play.
In the NHL, the opening weeks and exhibition season are known to include an extraneous number of penalties. Grabner suggests the current postseason play resembles what the beginnings of a season would look like.
Referees tend to “lay down the law” at the beginning of a season to avoid escalating penalties and emphasize their job in the game. Considering this year’s postseason comes after months of no gameplay – the resumption also marks a restart of referees and players’ behaviors.
The Layoff Theory
Coyotes coach, Rick Tocchet, believes the number of calls is due to the players’ physical states rather than the referees’ conditioned behaviors.
He highlights how NHL athletes have not had a typical year of training on the ice. According to Tocchet, this lack of structure could easily cause more penalties for less threatening plays like hooking “a little too much,”
After analyzing several postseason games, Tocchet concluded that it is only reasonable for athletes to get tired and make mistakes after months of quarantine and informal training.
The Too Happy to Be Back Theory
Ultimately, most professional athletes are going to be more than excited to return to their sport. Being too eager about playing can account for silly mistakes making penalties all that much easier to call.
Brad Marchand of the Boston Bruins emphasized how the players’ excitement can shift their focus from the game’s technical side to the spirit of the game, accounting for sloppy plays and added penalties.
Players and Coaches both expect that the new trend will slowly begin to die down as players regain their footing and postseason games continue.
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