The Islanders and Rangers will get together for a preseason game in Bridgeport on Friday night. They met on Monday in what generously could be described as a mess. There were 15 power plays between the teams as the NHL-mandated crackdown on slashing and faceoff violations was heavily enforced by officials at Madison Square Garden.
The new enforcement of slashes on the sticks near the hands, something that’s become as commonplace as body-checking the past few seasons but has resulted in a few big-name players missing time with broken bones, would be one thing on its own.
Combined with linesmen giving only one warning for centers whose skates cross the lines by the faceoff dots before issuing a bench minor, there have been some ugly games and bewildered players and coaches this preseason. The Islanders are among them.
Doug Weight noted that the crackdown on hooking and holding led to NHL players keeping two hands on their sticks to defend, which led to the small and not-so-small slashes by defenders to opposing sticks and gloves. Now that’s out as well, and we are seeing the difficulty of adjusting again.
“These taps, it’s ingrained in their head. It’s not something they can stop doing that easily,” Weight said. “It’s not something that’s a short topic with the coaches and players. It can change your October.”
“I just feel like 12 years ago, 15 years ago, I could no longer use my free hand to defend,” Doug Weight said of slashing calls. “What it created, guys have two hands on the stick and they start tapping. Now it’s been taught for 15 years because of that rule change. Somebody breaks a finger and it’s missed, call those. These taps, it’s ingrained in their head, it’s not something they can stop doing that easily. It’s not something that’s a short topic with the coaches and players. It can change your October.”
Weight is even more confused by the faceoff enforcement. “If the idea is to create more offense, you want guys winning draws cleanly,” he said. “Now you’re more likely to get tied up and have it be more of a scrum. I don’t get it.”
The Isles will have to start getting it if these stricter calls continue into the regular season. On Wednesday at Barclays Center, the calls seemed a bit more reasonable, with three slashing minors and no faceoff violations called, even though it seemed there was a little faceoff cheating going on.
When it comes to evaluating players fighting for jobs, the penalty-box parades like Monday’s game make that process “nearly impossible,” as Weight put it.
Scott Mayfield has five minors in the two preseason games he’s played, with two slashing calls. He plays with a physical edge, but for a big defenseman, taking away that small whack to the opponent’s stick may cost him playing time.
“Obviously, I had a few issues with it,’’ he said, “but that’s the new rule and we’re all going to have to adapt to it. It’s an adjustment period, but it’s something that needs to be done. We can’t be taking all those penalties. I think I’m still going to be physical and play my game. I still have to play to my strengths and something I bring to this team to help us win is the physical side. I don’t want to think too much about it. I kind of know what they’re looking at now.”