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Face-off rule enforcement haunts Wings

In first two preseason games, Detroit has taken four minor penalties in the face-off circle

by Arthur J. Regner @ArthurJRegner / DetroitRedWings.com

DETROIT - Red Wings captain Henrik Zetterberg may not have played a preseason game yet, but he has plenty to say about the NHL's decision to strictly enforce the league's face-off rule.   

That's because in their first two preseason games, against the Boston Bruins and Pittsburgh Penguins, Detroit has been issued a bench minor penalty for delay of the game - face-off violation, a total of four times, two in each game.

This season the NHL is adamant on cracking down and enforcing Rule 76.6, which states: 'When at least two face-off violations have been committed by the same team during the same face-off, this team shall be penalized with a bench minor penalty to the offending team. This penalty shall be announced as a "Bench Minor Penalty for Delay of Game - Face-off Violation."

The violations can be anything from failing to line up properly to playing the puck by hand and everything in between.

Needless to say, the rule has been met with disdain from many players and confusion from most fans.

"Brutal. I haven't played so I can't really put my own experience on it, but what I've heard and what I've seen makes no sense to me why they do it," Zetterberg responded when asked about the face-off crackdown. "It's slowing down the game, it's almost mocking the game. I think face-offs is one of the 50-50 battles that there is a little part of cheating in it.

"If you look at all the good face-off guys back in the day, there is a skill to it and now you're basically taking that away. Might as well take a face-off with my knob (of the stick).

"It's going to be interesting to play and see it, but what I've heard I don't know where it came from and why it came. I don't think it's an issue in our sport. We're trying to speed up our game, this will slow the games and there will penalties. I don't see any good coming out of it."

Dylan Larkin played Tuesday against the Bruins in Boston and he feels the league is serious about enforcing the rule.

"It's really strict. I was really surprised. We had a meeting with the linesmen before the game and I'm sure they did the same in Pittsburgh," Larkin said. "They called it. I don't know, I think I was kicked out (of the face-off circle) six or seven (times) and I think we had two face-off violation penalties last night (in Pittsburgh), I think we had two the night before (in Boston).

"It's a major part of the game now. I guess it's just being educated on knowing what to do and how strict they're going to be. Hopefully it's consistent and it's going to be a huge part of the game now."

One Detroit player who's willing to give enforcement of the rule a chance is Darren Helm.

"I don't love but I think it can work. It puts a lot of responsibility on the referees to be consistent and call it," Helm said. "I know yesterday (Wednesday in Pittsburgh), the linesman who was dropping the puck, they put a lot of pressure on him to have the two wingers coming in and the centerman as well.

"If all the refs are kind of helping out and taking responsibility, it could be a good rule. It's pretty simple. You don't step on the circle line. You don't put your feet into the hash marks if you're a center and you put your stick down. It's not too hard or complicated.

"I think when the refs start backing off and not calling it, that's when it's going to get a lot of backlash. Yesterday, I thought they did a good job of calling it in the first period but by the end of the game, I think there wasn't as many calls as could have been made. That's where guys will get frustrated."

Like Helm, Larkin understands a rule is rule, unlike Helm, he feels the rule is not quite as cut and dried as it should be.

"The refs are just doing their jobs. They're not doing it because they're frustrated about face-offs, it's because they're being told to do it," Larkin said. "It is a little bit frustrating, you're a centerman, especially in preseason you want to get your timing down, you want to be in there, you don't want to get kicked out of draws.

"That's the frustrating part, especially with the new rules. But it definitely is a little bit frustrating right now trying to feel out the linesmen and learn what's the procedure, what are they going to call.

"The two (face-off penalties) that happened when I played in Boston, we didn't even know it happened. They just blew the whistle. It does slow the game down but it's part of the game now so we got to make sure we're on top of it and we can't have those penalties in the regular season."

Detroit coach Jeff Blashill has been through rule enforcements during his coaching career and though his players are frustrated for the most by the crackdown, he believes they're going to have to live with it.

"I think anytime - and it's not a rule change - I've been through this lots when I was in college," Blashill said. "Every year there seemed to be some emphasis and that would get called to an amount that almost seemed crazy.

"Certainly, the difference between college and here is those were all regular season games of some fashion. These are preseason games so that's nice that at least we can work this out in preseason, we being the centers and wingers and forwards on the team, can learn how to adapt properly.

"Everybody, on any kind of face-off or any kind of situation you're looking for an edge. How do you gain the edge without crossing the line? How are the linesmen going to call it exactly? It's just a feeling-out process. Every linesman's going to be a little bit different.

"We showed a couple clips today (Wednesday) from last night's (Tuesday) penalties so that we can continue to learn from it. I honestly didn't see it as an issue so I'm not sure why it feels like it's becoming an issue. I don't think it was an issue but that's not for me to decide, that's for the league to decide."

For years, the NHL has been notorious for enforcing a particular rule for a week or so by calling an abundance of penalties, only to have the penalty calls fade away as the season progressed.

Blashill doesn't agree with that assessment. He feels the league has been pretty consistent when they issue an edict about calling infractions.

"When they came out of the lockout and said they were going to call a bunch of stuff, they called a bunch of stuff for a long time. Maybe it's lessened over time but that's a lot of years.

"All I know is what I was told, that they're going to keep it up. I guess we'll see. Those are very, very hard calls to make for the linesmen. They don't want to make penalty calls, that's not why they're there.

"But they also have to enforce the rule the way that they're being told to enforce the rule. It'll be an interesting process as we move through. I would assume we'll go through the preseason, everybody will get a feel for it, and then hopefully we get back together and say, OK, this is how it's going to be."

Zetterberg is banking on the league to modify the rule and hopes that the negative feedback from many of its players will send a message to the league to "blow it up."

"It's got to be conversation about it or something. I think preseason games is a chance for a lot of guys to showcase themselves, earn a spot on the team and now you're in the box because you had your skate on the line (face-off marking)," Zetterberg said. "I don't see this holding up in a tight game and at the end of the game when guys are going a little earlier for the puck. Is that game going to be decided on a power play then? I don't see the reason why they're doing this.

"Every year they (the NHL) try to do something and I guess this year is this. I think there's a lot of other stuff you can improve on and face-off I don't think is one of them."

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