The one thing players say they want most from on-ice officials is consistency. That is why two calls last week, both of which went against the Lightning, are worth exploring.
In the first, Toronto's Niklas Hagman jumped Lukas Krajicek after the Tampa Bay defenseman cross-checked him to the ice. In the other, Lightning right wing Steve Downie fought Chris Neil after the Ottawa tough guy creamed defenseman Victor Hedman with a ferocious check.
The difference: Downie was penalized for instigating a fight. Hagman was not. That's no small deal. An instigator penalty carries a two-minute penalty and a 10-minute misconduct. Add five for fighting and you've got 17 penalty minutes.
In other words, the Lightning faced a two-minute penalty against Ottawa and lost a player for almost a period. The Maple Leafs faced no short-handed time for Hagman's actions.
"I think it's still a gray area from ref to ref," Lightning coach Rick Tocchet said. "Some will give more leeway than others."
No matter what you think of the instigator rule — Tocchet believes it protects "reckless" players "because there's no retribution" — it must be called consistently, considering the effect it has on strategy and personnel moves. The league also mandated that it be strictly enforced, though only 11 such penalties were called this season in the first 218 games, compared with nine last season.
"The refs in Ottawa said the league said … if anyone skates into a confrontation, even without throwing a punch, they were to (call) it," Tocchet said. "In Toronto, we were shocked Hagman never got one."
Tocchet would never tell teammates not to defend each other. He was surprised Downie waited for Neil to get ready for the attack. "Downs did the respect thing. But if you're going to get an instigator, you might as well get the first shot in. It makes no sense to get an instigator and start to fight fair, right?"
That's another problem with the rule, but that is another story.