If the Capitals hope to go anywhere in the playoffs this spring, they’ll need to focus more on their opponents and less on the men in stripes.
On Thursday night, with 58 seconds remaining in regulation and the Caps and Senators locked in a 1-1 tie, a scrum erupted and Mike Ribeiro was sent to the penalty box for roughing. Caps left wing Jason Chimera was so amused by the call he took off his gloves and clapped in mockery from the bench.
He was given a 10-minute misconduct.
A few minutes later the Senators were celebrating Sergei Gonchar’s power-play overtime goal, which clinched for them a berth in the playoffs.
For the record, Thursday night’s referees were Kevin Pollock and Tim Peel. They are names worth remembering as the Capitals prepare for the playoffs because, well, referees are people, too.
“We may have some of them [in the playoffs] and they’ve taken a verbal abusing from us in certain situations,” Capitals right wing Troy Brouwer said. “We’ve got to find ways to make bonds with referees so that they’re more lenient with you and they like reffing you rather than, ‘Oh no, I’ve got to ref the Capitals again. I’m going to get verbally abused.’
“They’re trying to stay as unbiased as possible, I would hope, and it’s human nature to hold grudges and to be unhappy with people who aren’t very pleasant to you.”
This is not to say Ribeiro and Chimera did not have good reason to be angry. In the first period Chimera was crushed from behind on a blindside check from Chris Neil, who was given a boarding minor on the play.
“I can’t talk about the refereeing,” Chimera told CSNWashington.com on Friday. “I’m only going to get myself in trouble.”
Ribeiro, who got called for hooking earlier in the third period, was unapologetic when asked about his roughing minor, saying there was no way a team should be given a power play in the closing minute of a game because of some post-whistle shoving.
“It’s not always our fault,” Ribeiro said. “If you don’t make the calls you’re supposed to call and then you make a call when the whistle blows, that [nonsense]. With one minute left you call a roughing penalty on me? C’mon. That’s [nonsense].”
Maybe, but it’s not the first time Ribeiro has left his team shorthanded at a crucial time in a game.
He was tossed from a game against the Jets in the second game of the season for complaining to a referee. On Feb. 27 in Philadelphia he complained about a non-call was given a two-minute unsportsmanlike and a 10-minute misconduct. On March 9 in Uniondale, N.Y., he took a high-sticking minor and got a 10-minute misconduct for complaining about it.
The Caps lost all three of those games and lost again Thursday night. Each of those four games had different sets of referees.
With penalties expected to be just as prevalent in the playoffs as they are in the regular season, and with the Caps’ penalty killers ranked 28th in the NHL, Brouwer said the Caps need to put a lid on their emotions.
“Last night was a bunch of built-up frustration,” he said. “We had a lot of guys that were on the refs pretty good. That’s probably what attributed to Chimmer being tossed.
“Maybe a little short fuse on their part. We have to learn that the refs are going to make their calls. Whether we agree with them or not they’re not going to change and we have to be level-headed and worry about the team that we’re playing rather than what the refs are doing.
Fourth-line center Matt Hendricks agreed.
“We need to address that more,” he said. “We address it when it’s happening, We need to address it when it’s not happening. We need to talk about it when it’s calmed down in here because when it comes down to it, there’s the coaches that can talk to the officials and [captains] Ovi, Nicky, Greenie.
“And the rest of us, just tone it down. Let the guys with some pull do the talking.”
Adam Oates said he disagreed with the roughing call on Ribeiro, but he was concerned enough to address it with the 33-year-old center on Friday morning.
“Some guys need to vent to get themselves in the game and that’s a little bit of Mike’s game,” Oates said. “And I don’t have a problem with it because I trust that he’s not going to do it at the wrong time. The only thing I said to him was don’t do it so often that it does linger and you get a reputation. He’s too good a guy and I don’t think he has that reputation.”
Oates remembers a time when referees were called almost every name in the book and turned the other cheek. That kind of abuse is no longer tolerated by the NHL.
“It seems my generation, if you had a night where you had a disagreement with a referee, the next time you played it was over,” Oates said.
“I feel the referees have shorter fuses. One of the things that has been hard this year is they don’t want the players swearing, which of course I understand. Except you’ve been doing it your whole life. It’s not that easy to change. We’re trying to change and I understand why. But since you’ve been doing it since midget hockey, it’s hard to change.
“It’s part of our language. It’s part of sports. It’s like telling a baseball player to stop spitting. C’mon. There’s movies about it, you know?”
During the lockout Oates actually sat in on committees attended by coaches and referees and said he sympathizes with
The difficulties of their jobs.
“They’re doing their best, but in the heat of the moment sometimes you just wish they’d understand it’s the heat of the moment for us, too. Let it go. Nobody’s perfect. But at the end of the day it’s on us. We’ve got to bow to them. They’re the bosses.”