Hockey can be a game of inches, but when it comes to offside challenges, it's even less than that.
Friday night, the Islanders won their third offside challenge this season, overturning Jeff Skinner's would-be-tying-goal in the third period of a 1-0 game. Once Skinner got to the net, the goal was clean, but his zone entry 11 seconds before wasn't.
That's where video coaches Matt Bertani and Doug Holewa come in.
Bertani and Holewa are the Islanders "eye in the sky", that are bunkered away in the dressing room with various camera angles breaking down every second of the game. They are the last guard against a goal after Jaroslav Halak and Thomas Greiss.
Their primary responsibilities during games are charting chances and clipping plays, but since the advent of the coach's challenge, they're looking at all the elements that go into a goal against - including zone entries.
They're watching everything, but it's a group effort, as sometimes it's the assistant coaches or a player that will spot something fishy at ice level - on Friday night Johnny Boychuk tipped off Doug Weight to get the wheels in motion. The refs get the overwhelming majority of zone entries right, but there's no harm in double-checking. The harm comes from being wrong, as now it'll put teams shorthanded.
"Our guys are on it and have done a really good job," Weight said in the days after the Isles got a successful challenge against Montreal. "We're batting close to 1.000 and probably messed up on two where we were upset with the calls, but Matty and Dougie in the trenches do a great job and the guys up top (Assistant Coach Scott Gomez and Goalie Coach Fred Brathwaite), so really I just get word if they think it's offside and I'll look at it quickly on the bench. If I can't tell I have to go with them. That's why you have people you trust."
The Islanders have won three of their four offside challenges this season and two of them - the challenges in Montreal and Carolina - played a big role in each win. What's notable about the challenge in Montreal was that the play occurred nearly a minute before the actual goal was scored. The challenge came as a surprise to everyone in the building, but not the two coaches, who have a healthy skepticism and a keen eye.
"You look at everything. We've stopped saying 'check it' because we now have two guys that are working the computer," Weight said. "So, they just check every one and 10 seconds after I'm just looking at [Assistant Coach] Kelly [Buchberger] and he's just saying it's good or it's not."
The process sounds smoother than it is. It's a frantic sequence when deciding whether or not to challenge. There's about 40 seconds between a goal being scored and the next face-off, in which the video coaches have to analyze the play and get their findings to Weight.
"I would like to tell you it's very calm and professional, but I'm yelling at Kelly for an answer on if we're challenging or not." Weight said. "The refs looking at me. It's chaotic. They are going to sit there and make you put guys on the ice and it would be a real shame and looked back and missed it."
The final decision ultimately falls with Weight, but he has a lot of trust in Bertani and Holewa. They don't wind up on the scoresheet, but the video coaches have a couple of big-time assists this season.