Colorado Avalanche: Officials Unfairly Target Erik Johnson

NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 05: Erik Johnson
NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 05: Erik Johnson /
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NHL officials bungled calls against the Colorado Avalanche concerning a play involving cornerstone defenseman Erik Johnson.

Well, the NHL officials are back to deciding games on their own when it comes to the Colorado Avalanche. They are also unfairly targeting an Avalanche player, defenseman and alternate captain Erik Johnson.

The Colorado Avalanche lost their game against the New Jersey Devils. Their penalty kill was horrible, and that was very clear because of how many penalties the officials doled out — 10 this time. Colorado only had four of those penalties, but they gave up three goals during the penalty kill.

The power play was equally atrocious, going 0 for 6. The lone Avalanche goal came during even strength, which at least is something.

The bogus penalty against Erik Johnson came at a crucial moment in the game for Colorado. The Avs were down just 2-1 after that even-strength goal by Carl Soderberg.

The play happened at 17:44 of the second with Colorado gaining momentum. The Avalanche were attempting to clear the puck with Devils players pinching in. One of those players was Kyle Palmieri, who was motoring for the hashmarks.

Ok, Johnson is guilty of one thing — he turned the puck over in his own zone. Indeed, his clearing attempt went right to Palmieri’s stick. Palmieri moved down the boards, and Johnson did what a defenseman is supposed to do — he went for the check.

Erik Johnson dropped his shoulder and angled toward Palmieri. Kyle turned to the left toward the boards, and his leg stuck out. Johnson missed the shoulder, and their two knees collided.

Here’s the video:

You can see that Johnson is off-balance. His knee is turned away because he’s flailing to the left after missing the check on Palmieri. Incidentally, the knees that collided were the rights. Erik Johnson has had two significant injuries to that right knee — one that derailed his season with the Avalanche and one that put him completely out of commission with the St. Louis Blues for an entire year.

This is not a knee — or a move — that a player with that history is going to risk.

Related Story: Understanding Erik Johnson's Knee Surgery

As you watch the play, you’ll see that the linesman is looking right at the play. However, he doesn’t even call the penalty until Kyle Palmieri struggles to get up. It’s the old classic, calling a penalty because a player got hurt. (Which is not a valid reason for calling a penalty.)

In case you want a comparison, here’s what a deliberate knee-on-knee hit looks like.

Observe how Matt Cooke squares to Tyson Barrie and sticks his knee out. He’s not flailing — he’s completely in control.

Johnson, on the other hand, simply lost control because of the missed check.

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What’s especially lovely is how not one, not two, but three Devils players gang up on Erik Johnson. Granted two of them were lightweights, Taylor Hall and the first-overall draft pick New Jersey stole from the Avalanche, Nico Hiscier. Nonetheless, that could have been a dangerous situation.

However, the officials didn’t think ganging up on a player is a penalty (it is — it’s called roughing), so Johnson’s was the only penalty.

The Devils scored on the ensuing power play, and that was essentially it for the Colorado Avalanche.

Erik Johnson spoke to the media after the game. The first words out of his mouth were a sincere hope that Kyle Palmieri was ok, especially since the two had played together at the World Cup.

Johnson explained the play exactly as you can see in the video:

"“I just went to hit him, never changed my course. I haven’t seen the replay, but I didn’t feel like I stuck my knee out… I led with my shoulder. I don’t know if he tried to jump around or what have you.”"

It’s Mike Chambers of the Denver Post who first observed that Johnson had been leading with his shoulder. Missing shoulders led to the knees colliding.

Here’s the video of Johnson’s interview. courtesy of Adrian Dater:

In his game recap, Dater raises the possibility that Johnson may face supplemental discipline for the hit, adding, “But I doubt it.” Boy, would that be an injustice to Erik Johnson and the Colorado Avalanche. But knowing how inept the Department of Player Safety is — and how prejudiced against the Avalanche — it wouldn’t actually surprise me.