Chicago Blackhawks: On Quenneville, Hossa And Arizona

Feb 4, 2016; Glendale, AZ, USA; Chicago Blackhawks head coach Joel Quenneville shouts towards officals during the first period against the Arizona Coyotes at Gila River Arena. Mandatory Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports
Feb 4, 2016; Glendale, AZ, USA; Chicago Blackhawks head coach Joel Quenneville shouts towards officals during the first period against the Arizona Coyotes at Gila River Arena. Mandatory Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports /

That was something else, huh?

On Thursday night, the Chicago Blackhawks and Arizona Coyotes engaged in a very strange, very entertaining game in the desert, with the Blackhawks coming out on top 5-4 in overtime. This game had several exciting moments, and also a few infuriating ones — for both teams. Even though this was a regular-season tilt, and even though a more-important game against the Dallas Stars looms on Saturday, it’s only fair we give Blackhawks-Coyotes its fair due with a little postgame analysis. I mean, come on, Michal Rozsival scored a goal in this game. MICHAL. ROZSIVAL.

Let’s start with Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville, a mad scientist who definitely covered the “mad” part of that title Thursday. Late in the first period, with the Blackhawks struggling against a vicious Arizona forecheck, Jonathan Toews got the puck to the net, and Marian Hossa engaged in a battle with defenseman Klas Dahlbeck (a former Blackhawk) and goaltender Louis Domingue. Dahlbeck gave Hossa a small push somewhat at Domingue, while Domingue ever so slightly came out to possibly knock the puck away from Hossa.

Then, in a split second, Hossa spun in front of Domingue and got his right leg caught between the goaltender and his stick before getting his own stick on the puck, spinning back around and firing it off Dahlbeck’s right shin and into the nearly-open net. Domingue protested slightly, but the main protest came from Arizona coach Dave Tippett, who challenged the call on the grounds of goaltender interference.

I happened to hear the thoughts of both teams’ broadcasters during and after the review, and of course they were split on the decision, which was overturned for a no-goal. While Hossa merely laughed and shook his head on the bench, Quenneville lost his mind, actually jumping in front of his players to get in referee Marc Joannette’s face. It was very Lou Piniella-like, and it was also equal parts hilarious and terrifying. Joannette and another referee eventually skated away before Q screamed some unsavory words in their direction, earning a two-minute bench minor for his troubles.

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Now, normally you’d be upset at someone on the team for losing his cool enough to lead to a minor penalty. And even though the ensuing Coyotes powerplay scored — after an Arizona penalty was missed, no less — I have no problem with Q’s reaction and subsequent penalty. The contact between Hossa and Domingue was incidental at best, and it hardly stopped Domingue from playing the puck. If Domingue had simply moved his body instead of … doing whatever he was doing, he probably would’ve stopped the bank off Dahlberg. I also don’t buy that Domingue doesn’t have enough strength to pull his stick away from the moving leg of Hossa in order to end the contact.

I don’t think either party was guilty of “initiating the contact,” per say, but I think Domingue could have easily ended it, considering he was facing the action and clear on what was happening while Hossa had his back to the play and was entirely focused on the puck. I think Q had a really fair gripe, and he wanted to make sure the ice didn’t end up tilted in one direction the rest of the game … an idea which gained more traction when Hossa was hauled down behind the action on the following powerplay, giving the Coyotes an easy 5-on-3 scoring chance on which they converted.

Q’s tantrum also seemed to fire up a Blackhawks club that was lumbering through the first period up to that point, unable to get much sustained pressure on Domingue or effectively deal with a hard-charging Coyotes outfit. That certainly changed after Q said his piece.

Overall, I think the goal reversal was a product of a young officiating crew, as Pat Foley helpfully pointed out prior to puck drop that the officials in this game were very young. Joannette is 47 years old and is a familiar name to regular NHL fans, but Mark Lemelin (33, in his third NHL season), Shandor Alphonso (32, in his second NHL season) and Ryan Gibbons (31, first NHL season) are newer to the circuit. It felt like this group may have been concerned about botching a call early in the game and setting a bad tone, and so they made the switch … which set an even worse tone and, in the eyes of Blackhawks fans, was the wrong call.

Q will probably end up with a call from the league offices for berating an official in the manner in which he did, but he’s likely

willing to take that, as he has before. Also receiving a call could be Hossa, who had some interesting thoughts after the game about the waved-off goal. From the Chicago Sun-Times’ Mark Lazerus:

“I thought that was (a) joke,” Hossa said. “I tried to battle in front of the net and I don’t have any intention to touch the goalie, just try to battle through two guys and put the puck in the net. I don’t know what’s going to happen in the playoffs, if there’s going to be calls after calls after calls. But I don’t think (the coach’s challenge is) good for the league.”

Hossa will occasionally say to the media what he feels he needs to, but he’s usually not so outspoken about it. Toews and even Quenneville after the game were far more reserved when asked about the play and the coach’s challenge in general, with Toews saying “I guess it’s not the right thing to get into the details too much” and Q adding “The interpretation, everyone has an opinion on it.”

The league doesn’t take kindly to being criticized about much of anything, so I wouldn’t be surprised to hear about someone from its offices calling Hossa to remind him he’s a veteran ambassador for the game who shouldn’t be describing one of the game’s newest rules as a joke. And Hossa will probably nod solemnly while saying he understands before hanging up and laughing some more. And he should, because frankly the coach’s review is a bit of a joke right now. But all rules go through infancy stages, and the NHL will get this one right sooner rather than later.

The last point I want to hit on from last night’s weird game is Arizona in general. First, the atmosphere at Gila River Arena (that’s really the building’s name) was like a mini-Madhouse on Madison with the number of Blackhawks fans in attendance. I don’t know that I’ve ever heard a building’s attendees openly boo something that benefited the home team, but that happened last night when Hossa’s first goal was waved off. It was so loud, in fact, that Joannette could barely be heard by the time he finished making the official explanation.

The Coyotes have been part of relocation rumors for quite some time, and while they do have a small yet vociferous fan base, I think nights like this put on display a reason they need to move on from the desert. But the atmosphere did seem to fire up both sides, as the Blackhawks felt like they were playing in front of a small home crowd, and the Coyotes seemed actively upset their home arena didn’t have their backs. It led to harder hits and plenty of after-the-whistle scrums. In particular, Andrew Shaw was running around like a clown most of the night, once leaving his feet to make a hit and another time being restrained by Toews to avoid committing a minor penalty. Arizona’s Brad Richardson was also mixing it up on a consistent basis.

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That brings up my second thought about Arizona, this one about the Coyotes specifically. I’m not of the opinion that a team “deserves” anything in this league. I certainly think a team can not deserve something, as when the Blackhawks have phoned it in against lowly competition this season — I don’t think they deserved any points in those situations. But I also don’t think a team deserves one point or two points in any situation. You can earn points, but no matter how hard you work to earn points, you never deserve anything in this league.

That being said, Arizona certainly earned at least one point last night, which is what it got. The Coyotes’ forecheck was fast and furious in the opening 20 minutes, and the Blackhawks responded poorly to it. But the Blackhawks turned things around in the final two periods, plus overtime, and outshot the Coyotes 40-28. In spite of that, Arizona put together a solid performance. I still don’t think this is a good team, by any means, but it’s definitely a hard-working one, and a feisty one. The Coyotes could certainly be in the playoff hunt down to the final weeks of the season just because of this, since the Pacific Division is mostly garbage. Once their younger players mature and they make a few improvements (namely at goaltender), this could be a team to be reckoned with.

By then, of course, the team could be in Las Vegas. Maybe it should be now …