Against the Montreal Canadiens, New York Islanders forward Mathew Barzal was yet again the target of the dark arts of defending. Why isn’t he getting the calls from officials?
Teams will regularly double team Barzal in order to limit his time and space. The extra attention is something that Mathew Barzal is starting to get used to. And now in his third NHL season, he’s starting to find ways around that extra attention.
So opposition players are having to find new ways to try to stop Barzal. Some of them aren’t necessarily legal by the laws of the game. And for some reason, refs aren’t calling them.
Developing a reputation
If you watched that replay you’ll notice that the play took place right under the referee’s nose. He saw the entire play and didn’t call a penalty there.
It’s not the first time this season that Barzal didn’t get a call from officials on what should be a slam dunk penalty.
On October 14, against the St Louis Blues, Barzal received a slash to the back of his leg. A slash that had him reeling on the bench in pain. Again, no call was made on the play.
Three days later, on October 17, the Islanders played the Winnipeg Jets at the MTS Center. In that game, Barzal took a few sticks to the face. Something that gave him a swollen lip and had him comparing himself to Kylie Jenner.
Look, all three situations are penalties in the NHL. So why isn’t Barzal getting the call?
It’s possible the officials just didn’t see them. Although, if that were true they would have called Kotkaniemi for holding, or tripping, or both even.
(Getting two penalties on one play sounds crazy but it literally happened to Josh Ho-Sang last year.)
So, again, why isn’t Mathew Barzal getting the calls?
Without hearing from the referees from the three games in question – Kyle Rehman and Chris Lee from the Winnipeg game, Garrett Rank and Bryan Pochmara from the St Louis game, or Dan O’Halloran and Peter MacDougall from the Montreal game – we’ll never know for sure.
My working theory is that officials see Barzal as a diver or an embellisher. Someone who will try to dupe the refs into calling a penalty. My basis for that working theory took place in Los Angeles. There Barzal took a Jeff Carter stick to his nether region. Carter got two for slashing and Barzal was given two for embellishment.
Looking at other spears to the nether region from the last few years, Barzal’s reaction is quite normal:
Barzal’s reaction to getting a stick between the legs was perfectly normal. He fell to the ice clutching his groin. That’s standard stuff, but he still got a two-minute minor for it.
In my opinion, that shows the officials have Barzal on their embellishment radar. And because of that, they aren’t giving him the benefit of the doubt when, for instance, Kotkaniemi practices his black-belt kata during the game. Why Barzal is on the embellishment list is beyond me, but it seems like he’s on it.
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I could be overreacting and perhaps there’s a good explanation for why Mathew Barzal isn’t getting the calls he should be. But there are so many now that it’s becoming impossible to prove unless there’s an underlying reason. Being labeled a diver would explain that.