The Zebras

When it comes to fans assessing officials in any sport, the perception of how good or how bad a job the zebras have done in any given game is tied directly to which team you’re cheering for and the result of that game. The way I see it, that’s a pretty sound baseline to start with when the moaning and groaning begins.

It’s no surprise, then, Edmonton Oilers’ fans expressed their displeasure with referees Eric Furlatt and Kendrick Nicholson after last night’s 4-3 loss to the Montreal Canadiens, or that they were a lot louder than they would’ve been after a 4-3 win. That’s the lens fans see the game through. Thus, in the opinion of many Oilers’ faithful, Furlatt and Nicholson were dog poop in terms of setting any standard and maintaining any consistency.

I see it much the same way, just not to the same degree. Rather than re-wind the entire game tape, four plays stand out for me. There’s the interference call on Leon Draisaitl for his hit on Joel Edmundson, the call on Connor McDavid for roughing Corey Perry, the tripping call on Mike Smith against Tyler Toffoli and the non-call on Josh Anderson for knocking the stick out of Smith’s hand on the 4-1 goal. My guess is many of you think the referees got all four wrong. I think they got three of them right.

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The call on Draisaitl was terrible. It was a clean body check he was committed to with the puck nearby. How that hit gets called, given what was let go, is a mystery to me. Perry sold the roughing call, but McDavid gave him something to sell. Connor got away with worse that wasn’t called. The tripping call on Smith was legit. Yes, Toffoli stepped on his stick inside the crease, but only after Smith contacted his other foot outside the blue paint.

Likewise, the referees got it right on the non-call on the reviewed 4-1 goal. “What? He kicked the stick right out of Smith’s hand, Brownlee. What are you looking at?” Well, I’m looking at this. Anderson didn’t kick the stick out of Smith’s hand, he contacted it – at ice level and outside of the crease – while making a tight turn before shoveling a backhand into the net. I’ve watched it at least five times and don’t see a reason to take that goal off the board.


Apr 22, 2018; Denver, CO, USA; Referee Tim Peel (20) waves off a Colorado Avalanche goal in the second period against the Nashville Predators in game six of the first round of the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs at the Pepsi Center. Mandatory Credit: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

“An interference call on a guy who just passed the puck,” Dave Tippett said of the bogus call on Draisaitl, who played a terrific physical game and was in several battles with Shea Weber (who took full advantage of the referees’ definition of cross-checking). “I don’t know. It is what it is. I’m not going to comment on the referees. That was, that was . . . I’ll just leave it at that.

“We were chasing the game and made it close but it’s still a loss . . . you’re playing hard playoff-style games and that’s good for your team, how you react, how you play. You find out a lot about your players, who can battle at that level. You had to fight for every patch of ice. There were times where we didn’t win enough battles so we could play in the offensive zone more.”

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After watching the Oilers storm back from a 1-0 deficit in a 4-1 loss Monday, the Habs played another tough, physical game. They took what the referees gave them, and that was plenty. Weber went full-on Derian Hatcher on Draisaitl at every opportunity. When you win that game, it’s called playing tough hockey. Fans on the losing side see it differently. It’s a given.

That said, Furlatt and Nicholson were certainly guilty of failing to set any kind of standard – that’s all players and coaches ask. You simply cannot let Weber play lumberjack on one hand and then call Draisaitl for a clean body check. That’s the frustration, whether you’re a player, coach or a fan. Consistency? There was none.


In the end, Furlatt and Nicholson’s game management – or mismanagement — resulted in both teams having four power plays, with each team scoring once. The way I see it, the zebras had a bad night, just not as bad a night as it seems for fans when their team ends up on the wrong end of the score.

This was the kind of physical, intense hockey the Oilers will see more of the rest of the way, starting with a pair of games against the Winnipeg Jets Monday and Wednesday. The bottom line is the Oilers need to find a way to navigate what’s coming as well as they did beating the Habs Monday. Last night, not so much. That’s the real story.

Previously by Robin Brownlee