Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Penguins administer their own justice after Sýkora’s trickery

It’s a nightmare situation for any referee: a player who should be sitting in the penalty box has just scored a short-handed goal. This exact situation happened during an NHL game between the New Jersey Devils and Pittsburgh Penguins on October 22. The Devils pulled a fast one on the officials and scored an unfair tying goal.

Patrik Eliáš (left) and Petr Sýkora, shown here after
the 2003 Stanley Cup Finals. Photo:
The goal scorer who was supposed to be in the penalty box was Patrik Eliáš, the Devils star veteran. Eliáš was penalized when his high stick struck Pittsburgh’s Steve Sullivan in the face. Because Sullivan suffered a bloody gash, New Jersey’s number 26 was sent to the box.

At that moment, a 34-year-old veteran Petr Sýkora, Eliáš’s long-time friend and linemate, had an idea that he thought would help his team. He tricked the officials and went to the penalty box to serve a double minor penalty for his teammate’s foul.

Despite loud protests from Pittsburgh, the referees let the game go on and, 70 seconds later, Eliáš scored a goal to tie the game at 1.

After the game, Sýkora explained his actions, stating that he wanted to help his team. "It was disrespectful to the referee on my part, but I didn't want to have Eliáš go to the penalty box for four minutes," Sýkora said on the NHL’s website.

“I just got the idea, and it worked out and Eliáš actually got a goal there. After that, the referee came up to me. He wasn't happy and I apologized to him,” he added.

The question is why Sýkora apologized to the referee if he knew what he was doing, but the main thing is that justice did not remain blind. Actually, the Penguins played as if they were intent on administering their own justice and scored three goals in the third period to win 4-1.

Because they won the game, the Pittsburgh players didn’t show any anger about the incident. "You could see it pretty clearly it was the wrong guy in the box," said the Penguins goalie Marc-André Fleury to, "but I guess it turned out alright in the end."

The wording of the rules:

If the same situation were to occur in any European league or IIHF tournament, no goal should be allowed, according to Rule 562 of the IIHF rulebook:

…1. If a player shall illegally enter the game from his own player's bench or from the penalty bench by his own error or the error of the Penalty Bench Attendant, any goal scored by his own team shall be disallowed, while he is illegally on the ice, but all penalties imposed to both teams shall be served….

Unfortunately, the NHL rulebook does not have any similar provision in the case where a player scores a goal while he should be in the penalty box. Still, it seems that the officiating failed at some point, because the referees had informed the official scorer that Eliáš was the player who should serve double-minor penalty, but nobody corrected the situation before play resumed. The closest applicable rule states:

70.4 Leaving the Penalty Bench
…In the case of a player returning to the ice before his time has expired through an error of the Penalty Timekeeper, he is not to serve an additional penalty, but must serve his unexpired time. …

This rule deals with leaving the penalty bench prematurely due to an error by the  penalty timekeeper’s error, not a situation where the wrong player is in the box from the beginning.

However, this incident demonstrates the NHL’s need to change, or at least clarify, the rule. Fortunately, in this case, the incident did not affect the final score and the Penguins won the game, but hopefully steps are taken to ensure no similar goal is allowed in future.

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