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FEATURE: Adjusting to the rules

Slashing minors and face-off violations will be enforced in 2017-18 and the Oilers are planning to adjust accordingly

by Paul Gazzola /

EDMONTON, AB - There are no new sheriffs in town and no new rules to enforce. 

There is, however, a bounty out on outlaws who exercise the National Hockey League's most under-the-radar mannerisms: slashing minors and face-off violations.

Video: OILERS TODAY: Face-off Violations

The Oilers and Flames played two split-squad games on Monday, and it was clear as day that the West is as wild as typified. In the two games combined, nine slashing minors were called - seven in the Rogers Place tune-up alone. In that game, five were given to the Calgary Flames, while only Eric Gryba and Mark Fayne each received a single minor for the offence. 

Face-off violations, meanwhile, were less of a focal point between the two teams. Ryan Lomberg of the Flames served the only face-off violation penalty but around the League, nine bench minor draw violations were doled out.

The harsher enforcement of the penalties is something the Oilers are adjusting to. The linesmen in Edmonton's home game, Mark Wheler and Bevan Mills, talked with the players of both teams prior to the match, telling them what they would be looking for in regards to face-off violations. 

"That's kind of always how the rule was," McDavid said Tuesday. "You're supposed to have your feet behind the line, you're supposed to have your stick in the white so I guess they're just going to be calling it a little bit tighter."

The 2017-18 NHL rulebook has the rule explicitly written out:

Failure by either center taking the face-off to properly position himself behind the restraining lines or place his stick on the ice (as outlined in Rule 76.4). "Properly position himself behind the restraining lines" shall mean that the center must place his feet on either side of the restraining lines that are parallel to the side boards (contact with the lines is permissible), and the toe of the blade of his skates must not cross over the restraining lines that are perpendicular to the side boards as he approaches the face-off spot.

 The blade of the stick must then be placed on the ice (at least the toe of the blade of the stick) in the designated white area of the faceoff spot and must remain there until the puck is dropped. Failure to comply with this positioning and face-off procedure will result in a face-off violation. 

Should a team violate the rules twice in one draw, a bench minor will be handed out.

In Edmonton, centres McDavid, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Mark Letestu and Grayson Downing won 51 percent of the draws. In Calgary, Leon Draisaitl, Chris Kelly, Brad Malone and Joseph Gambardella finished at 40 percent collectively. Stricter implementations could change the way the Oilers centres take draws, which McDavid touched on.

"I don't think you're going to see a lot of tying up anymore," the forward, who ended his night with two assists, said. "You're not going to see a lot of turn and kicks or using the foot move. It's going to be a lot more of a stick battle more than anything now. You just have to think about different ways to win them."

Oilers Head Coach Todd McLellan intends to keep his squad disciplined and said his team will try to use the precedent to their advantage. 

"I don't see our (faceoff) numbers falling by any means and maybe we can take advantage of the new rules," he said. "But it's similar to the slashing rule. We can complain and we can whine about it or we can adjust and try to make it work in our favour… I thought our team here in Edmonton did a fairly good job of adjusting to it. 

"We didn't have many players tossed out, certainly didn't take any penalties and I don't think that rule is going away at all any time soon so let's embrace it, let's try and figure out how we can make it work in our favour."

As for slashes, there's a belief that players will not be able to act liberally when defending against speed. McDavid is well aware of the effects of 'stick tapping' as it's been coined and could cause opposing teams to take more penalties.

"They can't take slashing out of the game completely," the 20-year-old said understandingly. "If they're looking for chops on the hand and things like that then I definitely do take a lot of those but I think a lot of guys do as well."

The season hasn't even begun yet but the Oilers will adapt to what will come.

"It's my understanding that that level or standard of call isn't going to change during the year so we better be prepared for it, we better practice like it, we better understand it and if we have a problem with it individually, we better fix it quickly," said McLellan.

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