Battle Between The Montreal Canadiens And NHL Referees Rages On


The Montreal Canadiens went down two games to none in their second round series versus the Lightning after a 6-2 loss Sunday night, but if Brandon Prust is to be believed, the Lightning weren’t the only adversaries the Habs faced on the ice last night.

It’s not the first time this season that the Habs have commented on what they felt was discriminatory treatment by referees. Near the start of the season, Brendan Gallagher in an intermission interview broke an unwritten rule by talking about what he was told by refs earlier in the game. Gallagher was brought down with no call, he revealed that he was told by an official that in fact, yes, “that’s a penalty but not on [him].”

It’s rare for players or coaches to talk about what’s said between them and officials, especially considering that the NHL can be quick to issue fines for making critical comments about the way games are officiated; see exhibits A, B, C, and D.

So why would Prust risk a fine, to air his grievances about Brad Watson following Sunday’s loss? For starters, the Lightning scored four of their six goals on power plays. They were awarded eight in the contest making it essentially impossible for the Canadiens to establish any momentum during the game. The first penalty the Canadiens drew was to Prust, a roughing minor. He was also immediately tagged for unsportsmanlike conduct for his part in the exchange, which he described in his post game interview.

Whether or not the Canadiens were robbed by Brad Watson of a chance to win Game 2 is very much open to debate, however it’s getting harder to argue against the theory that the Canadiens have a very special relationship with NHL officials that has worked against them for some time.

The saga dates back to March 3, 2013, when, following a 4-3 victory over the Bruins, Boston’s coach Claude Julien accused the Canadiens, and PK Subban in particular, of systematic embellishment, calling their actions “embarrassing to the game.”

Two seasons have passed, and it appears Julien’s lobbying has paid off. In 2013, the Canadiens finished the season with the most power plays in the league with 203 in 48 games. That was 81 more power plays than Julien’s Bruins were awarded.

A year later the Habs were still in the upper half of the league in terms of penalties drawn, but had fallen to 11th overall with 279 power plays. Their power plays per game had slipped from 4.23 down to 3.40.

This year, the Canadiens were 20th overall with 243 power plays averaging roughly three power plays a game. That’s a decline of about 1.25 power plays per game in a span of just two seasons.

The NHL also implemented a system to dole out fines and suspensions at the beginning of this season. When the rule launched, Damien Cox of the Toronto Star thought he knew exactly who it was targeting, Michel Therrien and the Montreal Canadiens:

In practice, it doesn’t seem as though the Canadiens were necessarily singled out by the new embellishment rules, however, PK Subban was the only player to be cited three times for diving resulting in $2,000 and $3,000 fines.

Whether or not league officials have singled out the Habs, the team certainly isn’t doing themselves any favors with their notable lack of discipline in the playoffs. The Canadiens have picked up four misconducts and a pair of game misconducts in just eight playoff games.

Brandon Prust and Dales Weise both received misconducts in Sunday’s loss. Weise was presumably punished for his own on-ice criticism to the referees after what he felt was a missed call. Ironically that same play resulted in a goal for the Habs, but that didn’t seem to minimize Weise’s frustration.

It remains to be seen whether or not Prust will face discipline for his comments, his saving grace may be that he did not actually criticize officials, but rather described the on-ice incident. That’s similar to what Brendan Gallagher did earlier in the season and he was not fined for his comments.

Perhaps the bigger question though is whether or not Prust’s comments will have an impact on how the series is called from here on out. After Sunday’s game, the Canadiens likely feel that any change will be an improvement, whether or not that’s the case remains to be seen.

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