After watching the game late on the DVR because of kids’ hockey stuff at game time and writing brief comments on the Skinner event(s) yesterday, here is a deeper dive into that situation on many levels:
They handled the situation poorly. The chippiness was in full force by the beginning of the second period with Jeff Skinner agitated and people looking for him after (and sometimes before) every whistle. There were a couple instances where the referees could have handed out modest 2-minute roughing or unsportsmanlike penalties to Skinner plus a meaningful Sabres’ player to cool things down and make it clear that they were not having all of the extra stuff. At a basic level, the referees failure to calm down a small situation played a significant role in it becoming a bigger situation.
As for the bigger situation, while I think you could make a case for Buffalo getting an extra penalty when things boiled over in the second period, I was mostly fine with offsetting penalties in terms of players on the ice. Multiple players took liberties. There was no dangerous boarding, high sticking or other penalties. As for Skinner’s 10-minute misconduct, it is impossible to evaluate that without knowing the full circumstances. If it was just an extra for him being in the center of the fracas, then that is uncalled for. Best guess is that he used 1 or more of a few magic words when yapping at the referees in which case it is a non-negotiable punishment.
The double minor for Brad Malone in the third period was also poorly officiated. His modest bump in the back of a Sabres player during play and within the context of the game was hardly worthy of a penalty especially given the context of the game. Apparently, the referees were trying to do was cool things down and maintain control, but if they were on top of things, they would have done this much earlier in the game. Then after awarding the first penalty liberally, they could have at least just skated away instead of tacking on another 2 minutes for whatever Brad Malone said about the first ‘iffy’ policing call.
Shorter version: The refs botched the whole situation. They did not nothing to cool things down early when it was possible and then overreacted when it was too late and mostly done anyway.
The Hurricanes collectively
I think the team in total could have been much better at handling the situation. It looked too much like Jeff Skinner against the world with a bunch of other Canes pairing off and watching. I am not a fan of the old school NHL way of handling this with a bunch of guys fighting who were not really even part of the original dispute, but I do think the situation would have been better if a few other Hurricanes player were more agitated about the fact that Jeff Skinner was agitated. Brad Malone did poke at Rasmus Ristolainen much later per the penalty incident noted above, but I also think this was a situation that could have benefited from a few more Canes coming to Skinner’s defense earlier not necessarily in the form of fights but at least stepping into the middle of it and getting in players’ faces.
The thing that bothers me most about the whole situation is that it was a relapse to a Jeff Skinner that we really have not seen this season. He was frustrated, off his game and focused mostly on things unrelated to the outcome of the game. In the end, Skinner missed 14 minutes in the penalty box, had a bad turnover late that led directly to the Sabres’ winning goal and the Sabres won – both the extracurricular war and more importantly on the scoreboard.
For a player like Skinner who had a reputation as someone who could be knocked off his game when younger, this relapse has significant ramifications. No doubt, other teams/players will take note that it is still possible some nights to get Jeff Skinner worked up and distracted which means he likely just queued up more games for himself in the future.
For a player with a bit of a history, I think consistency and some discipline in these situations is critical. As soon as you put forward the possibility that events like Tuesday are still possible, you have to deal with it more.
Jeff Skinner has made significant strides during the 2015-16 season defensively and has not abandoned his scoring in the process. This is a significant step forward for him, and a positive for the team for this season and also going forward. While Tuesday was not a good night for him, 1 game does not change any of this.