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(Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press)
(Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press)

Sean Gordon

Obstruction returns to the NHL Add to ...

It’s the sort of thing that drives a skilled NHL player mental.

In Monday’s game between the cellar-dwelling Carolina Hurricanes and the Montreal Canadiens, who are on the second-last step of the basement stairs, defenceman P.K. Subban subtly angled his body to hold up the Canes’ Jeff Skinner and edge him out of a race for a dump-in.

Skinner, who had previously been high-sticked by Rene Bourque (no call) and would later become enmeshed in a bantamweight jousting match with David Desharnais, went ballistic in a nearby referee’s ear when play stopped.

There’s some interpretation on our part that the reason was obstruction - Skinner clearly had several burrs in his unitard this night (he later high-sticked Subban while trying to get by on a play where the latter rightly held his ground).

But for the purposes of this screed, let’s assume that’s what got Skinner all red-faced and shouty.

Anyhow, what Subban did isn’t especially scandalous, in fact, it’s the sort of sly play that happens several times every night and has kept Hal Gill in the league.

It’s also becoming more common - seven seasons after the post-lockout crackdown on clutching and grabbing, defencemen can usually get away with rubbing out a forward when a puck is dumped in or chipped past them.

As someone who stands to benefit from this leniency, Pittsburgh’s Brooks Orpik makes an unlikely whistleblower.

But blow the whistle he has.

“(The NHL) didn’t tell us they were going to go easy on us (defencemen),” he told the Tribune-Review a few days ago. “But it’s pretty obvious that it has changed.”

There are various theories as to why that is, which you can read here, but the offshoot is that scoring is down in the NHL.

The tinfoil-hat types may see this as part of the grubby jostling that will characterize the CBA negotiations. It almost certainly isn’t, but just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean no one’s out to get you.

It’s beyond dispute that one traditional form of generating offence - the power-play - is on the wane.

The NHL has gotten worse with the man-advantage, the 30 teams collectively score just over 17 per cent of the time.

And the fact is, there are fewer and fewer power-plays being awarded in the NHL these days.

Marc-Antoine Godin of La Presse has crunched the numbers.

Heading into this past weekend, there was an average 6.9 power-play opportunities in each of the 810 NHL games played to that point.

That’s the lowest figure since 1978-79 - the Habs, owners of the crappiest man-advantage in the NHL, may argue this is a good thing.

And the numbers suggest that fewer penalties are being called as the season wears on.

There were a couple of egregious non-calls in the Carolina game, the worst of which was Alexei Emelin getting mushed into the boards from behind.

Godin found the Habs earned an average of 4.06 power-plays per game from October until Christmas, a figure that has dropped to 3.00 overall, and around 2.5 in the last 10 or 12 games (Monday, which saw the Habs score two power-play goals in a game for the first time since November, was clearly an outlier).

Inertia is a funny thing.

We’ve hacked on the refs at length in this space, but clearly this goes beyond individual reffing decisions.

Terry Gregson, the head of officiating at the NHL, insists nothing has changed policy-wise, but the numbers don’t lie.

If the NHL wants to attract new eyeballs with goals! goals! goals! a new crackdown is in order.

Think of it as a public service to the Jeff Skinners of the world, who are too young to be so angry.

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Follow on Twitter: @MrSeanGordon

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