Good things happen when you drive the net. Sometimes, they just take longer than you'd expect.
With about 40 seconds left in the 2nd period of yesterday's game against the Blackhawks, Jason Chimera had himself a bit of a breakaway, streaking wide down the right side. Chimera scored a goal with that play, but the goal took seven minutes of game time and more than half an hour of real life to show up on the scoreboard.
To take his shot, Chimera had to cut sharply through the crease. Chimera's shot bounced off the goalpost, but as he cut across the crease his thigh caught Hawks goalie Corey Crawford in the jaw, snapping the goaltender's head back. Some have suggested that the theatrical, flopping sprawl by Crawford that followed was a bit embellished, but there's no question that Chimera made solid contact with Crawford's head. No penalty was called, and defenseman Brent Seabrook took issue. Seabrook challenged Chimera to a fight. After alternating bear-hugs, they both went off the ice with 5-minute majors.
Seabrook's decision to fight was poor. In any ordinary game, the Capitals will trade losing grinder Chimera and Olympic Gold-medal-winner Seabrook for five minutes any time that opportunity becomes available. But this was no ordinary situation. Defenseman Brian Campbell had skated his final shift of the game ten minutes previously, coming off the ice with an injury and leaving Chicago with just five defensemen to finish the then-tied game. And at the time, Chicago's forwards on the ice included Jake Dowell (8 fights this season) and Troy Brouwer (4 fights). Why, of all people, did Seabrook (0 previous fights this season) feel the need to take on the role of enforcer?
Seabrook left Chicago with only four eligible defensemen while he served his major penalty. To understand the effect of such a short bench, it's useful to understand how athletes recover from intense hockey shifts. Four years ago, Brian Murray explained:
Forty-five seconds is about what the body can handle. A player can go pretty good for 45 seconds. An exceptional player might be able to go for a minute. At 45 seconds, the player can recover and be ready to go back on the ice at a ratio of one in three shifts. If they go longer than that, it can affect them for the rest of the game.
Keep the highlighted language in mind through this description of the opening minutes of the 3rd period as played by rookie Nick Leddy and all-star Duncan Keith. And imagine running hard for their described shift lengths, while taking the described rests in between.
Nick Hjallmarsson and Chris Campoli took the ice for the opening faceoff of the 3rd period, before yielding to Keith and Leddy. Leddy's first shift was long, 55 seconds, while Keith's was 36 seconds. Leddy and Keith were off the ice for 45 seconds before taking the ice again, this time for a 42-second shift. At the end of that shift, Leddy and Keith rested for 53 seconds before jumping on the ice again. Ten seconds into that shift by Leddy and Keith, Crawford froze the puck, leading to the only faceoff of the opening minutes of the period. The puck dropped 20 seconds later (scant rest for the weary), and Leddy and Keith completed their shifts -- 48 seconds for Keith, and a long 68 seconds for Leddy. They were off the ice for about 50 seconds each before taking the ice again. Leddy skated 38 seconds, and Keith an extra-long 74 seconds before this happened:
(Many thanks to Dimagus for the gifs)
The gentleman on the goalie's left who hits Laich into the boards too late, and then takes too low an angle and fails to prevent Laich from taking prime position in front of the goal, is Nick Leddy (#8). Behind the net, failing to tie up Eric Fehr or prevent the pass to Laich, is Norris Trophy winner Duncan Keith (#2). Which just goes to show what happens to a very good defenseman at the end of a 74-second shift when he's been double-shifting for several minutes with no breaks. Or, as Keith himself put it:
That was tough. We had four 'D' there for a good part of the game and five for most of the game. It wears on you, especially with a team like (Washington) with a lot of speed and guys who can do a good job cycling the puck and playing it down low.
All told, Keith had been on the ice for 3:20 and Leddy for 3:23 of the 6:23 of 3rd period action before the goal. The great irony is that pugilist Seabrook had already completed his penance -- the penalty expired after just 4:41. Of course, with both Seabrook and Chimera in the box, and the play at 5-on-5, neither player could leave the box until a whistle. So Seabrook languished in the box more than a minute and a half longer than he had to. In that time, Chicago attempted 4 shots -- 3 blocked and one low Campoli point shot stopped by a pad save. If the Hawks had shot the puck into Holtby's chest, he'd have frozen it and they'd have had an offensive zone faceoff -- with Brent Seabrook on the ice. Instead, play continued, and an exhausted defensive corps yielded a critical goal.
So the next time you see Mike Green, or even John Erskine drop the gloves, keep in mind that a team can afford to lose a forward for 5 minutes much more easily than a defenseman. This was an extreme situation, given Campbell's injury, but when a forward and a defenseman fight, the advantage always goes to the forward's team.