Penalties drop sharply in the third period in 2009-10

Penalties are always a major source of discussion when watching a hockey game. Referees at any level have a thankless job that will always leave someone unhappy. As a player and a fan, all you’re looking for from the men in the stripes is consistency. If you’re going to make a call in the first and second, you should make the same call in the third.

Unfortunately, most of the NHL referees don’t do this.

Let’s start with some background information.  In the 2009-2010 season, there were 12328 penalties called, which works out to about 10 per game (as there are 1230 games in each regular season).

The breakdown by period is:

  • First period: 4062
  • Second period: 4420
  • Third period: 3745
  • Overtime: 101

Now here are the most common calls, broken out by period. Pay special attention to Hooking and Interference:

  Period  
Penalty 1 2 3 OT Total
Boarding 94 109 104 3 310
Cross checking 147 172 160 4 483
Delaying Game-Puck over glass 91 94 106 1 292
Fighting 674 454 295   1423
Hi-sticking 257 277 298 12 747
Holding 293 353 300 7 953
Holding the stick 54 67 42   163
Hooking 594 661 480 15 1750
Interference 376 394 287 8 1065
Interference on goalkeeper 67 85 79 2 233
Roughing 440 541 512 9 1502
Slashing 210 303 261 9 783
Too many men/ice – bench 74 104 60 3 241
Tripping 433 538 421 20 1412

The interesting thing to note here is that there’s a drastic difference in Hooking and Interference between the first two periods and the third period. In fact, those two penalties decrease 27% between the second and the third periods. All other calls (not including Fighting) decrease just 8%.

I think this is a big problem because not making these calls slows down the speed of the game in the third. If the Hooking and Interference are happening without being called, then we’re slowly degenerating back to pre-lockout hockey. It also infuriates the players and the fans because there is no consistency in what is happening on the ice from the referees.

You could argue that there are less calls in games that are out of reach, but most games are not out of reach (just look at all the games that go to overtime). Unfortunately, that argument doesn’t hold much water when you look at the numbers of some of the refs. I think 27% is too much of a drop, and the chart below shows the top 12 offenders in the NHL in terms of the % drop in H&I calls from the second to the third period.

A quick word about the numbers shown below: There is no way to identify which referee made each call based on the data publicly available from the NHL. The best I can do is “associate” a call with a ref. That means that when you look at Mr. Auger’s 90 calls in the first period, what I’m really saying is that Mr. Auger worked games where 90 calls were made in the first. He didn’t necessarily make them all. It makes the data slightly less useful, but I think some obvious trends still emerge.

Here are the least consistent referees in the NHL in making Hooking and Interference calls in the third period:

Referee First Second Third OT % Change
#45 Justin StPierre 81 89 40 2 -55.06%
#44 David Banfield 17 27 14 1 -48.15%
#25 Marc Joannette 42 66 35 1 -46.97%
#15 Stephane Auger 90 85 47 2 -44.71%
#48 Frederick L’Ecuyer 36 34 19 1 -44.12%
#7 Bill McCreary 63 60 34 2 -43.33%
#6 Dan Marouelli 37 44 26 1 -40.91%
#38 Francois StLaurent 58 80 48   -40.00%
#26 Rob Martell 63 58 35 2 -39.66%
#23 Brad Watson 68 73 45 1 -38.36%
#14 Dennis LaRue 57 60 38   -36.67%
#10 Paul Devorski 44 71 47 1 -33.80%

To me, the real problems are the folks who are consistent for two periods and then drop off the planet with their numbers. That would be Justin StPierre, Stephane Auger, Bill McCreary, Rob Martell, Brad Watson and Dennis LaRue. I’m not letting the other guys off of the hook, but they’re inconsistent the entire game. These guys seem to judge the situation and subscribe to the “let the players decide the outcome” mantra. In my mind, if you don’t make the calls, you aren’t letting the players decide. Not making the calls is what let the “Old NHL” be the best source of water-skiing videos that weren’t filmed on a liquid surface. If you want to “let the players decide the outcome”, make the calls consistently.

In case you’re wondering, there were two refs whose calls for H&I actually increased from the second to the third: Greg Kimmerly and Chris Ciamaga. You can see more detail over on the original posts at Igloo Dreams (links at the bottom of this post)

Thoughts are welcomed and encouraged.

If you have ideas for other data to analyze, feel free to suggest them. I have some future posts in the works, but I’m sure there are lots of things I haven’t thought of.

The data that I’m presenting here is from the 2009-2010 regular season. It was gathered from NHL.com play-by-play reports. There were 1230 games in the regular season – I’m missing data from one game. The spelling of the names in this post are as they appear in the box scores of the games on NHL.com

This blog entry is a summarization of two longer, more detailed posts over at Igloo Dreams.  Part 1 is here and part 2 is here.

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About the Author: I've been blogging about the Pens at igloodreams.blogspot.com since the end of the lockout.

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  1. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by BDGallof, Hockey Independent. Hockey Independent said: Penalties drop sharply in the third period in 2009-10 by IglooDreams on HockeyIndependent! http://bit.ly/cAl4ib #nhl [...]

  2. Al Cimaglia says:

    Greta blog…I knew my eyes weren’t deceiving me.

    Someday I would like to know the breakdown of each penalty per month because …A big problem is the constant change in emphases on certain calls throughout the season.

    • Pat says:

      Al –

      That’s a good point – I can break it down by month and see how it comes out. Thanks for the suggestion – not sure I would have thought to do look at things that way!

      Pat – Igloo Dreams

  3. Fred Poulin says:

    This confirms a well-known fact that NHL refs are as bad as soccer refs!! Good insight Pat!

  4. ogie says:

    You are not taking one BIG factor into account here. That certain Refs have a style, or a tolerance for how far you can go before they will call something, and it can vary from game to game.

    So it is likely possible that by the third period the players on the ice have learned how far they can stretch it and not get called for a penalty.

  5. Pat says:

    @Fred – Thanks!

    @ogie – I don’t know – some other common “discretionary” penalties (like Holding, Roughing, Cross-checking or Slashing) are all essentially flat from the second to the third. Hooking & Interference drop…

    I have the numbers for each ref for all other calls (other than H&I) – I could publish those for contrast…

  6. Blazer says:

    Another thing to note is that many of the refs increase their H&I calls in the second period, and a few of them stay almost level in the first and third periode, with a large increase in the second.

    These are Marc Joannette, Francois St. Laurent, and Paul Devorski (a difference of 3 penalties in 1st and 3rd).

    Not sure what exactly there is to take from that, more intense and open game in the 2nd? So for these refs it’s wrong to just look at the difference between 2nd and 3rd periods.

    I think its more important to stay consistant on a game to game basis. Different teams play different styles against eachother, rivalries gets tougher. You could argue that there should be a machinistic approach to penalties so every borderline call was made and be consistant that way, but do we really wanna see 60 minutes of penalty killing?

    In my mind its both the hooking rule itself and the enforcement of it that makes this the way it is. I think its healthy to let a few penalties that are easy go, after all its a physically competitive game, and not Basketball.

    And both players and refs do in-game adjustments, what I want is that they are consistant from period to period, and lets the players know it. If they let everything go for the first 12 mins and then suddenly calls everything the last 8 min in a period, that is unbearable. But acknowledging two physically sound teams fighting for 2 points in the third, and letting them play a little on the borderline, that makes for good and fair hockey.

    Too bad all the missed infringements that should have been called (obvious holding, hits to the head, cross-checks to the back) doesn’t show up on a stat sheet.

    But that’s a different discussion, anyways good work! :)

  7. Glen says:

    Another factor is the way teams play in the third period.

    In a close game, teams will tend to be more cautious about certain things, either protecting a lead or trying to come back. The leading team will often sit back in a more defensive posture.

    Play around the net doesn’t change much, so calls like goalie interference and cross-checking see little change. ‘Accidental’ fouls like high-sticking and boarding also see little change.

    Extra caution and one team being less aggressive goes a long way towards explaining the discrepancy. I’m not saying the refs are great, and I’m sure there are cases of refs letting things go late in games, but I don’t think it’s as much of a problem as the stats suggest.

    • Jonathan says:

      Thank you igloodreams to raise that question ! I really like that kind of stat work with hockey data :)

      I however agree with Glen, especially when you look at the total number of penalties during each period. If we ignore the penalties given in OT (because OT does not happen every game, and it’s duration is rather short), out of 11 361 penalties, 33% are given in 1st period, 37% in 2nd, and 30% in 3rd. Those stats suggest that the proportion of penalty is almost evenly distributed in the 3 periods.

      Therefore we must analyse the drop for hooking and interference during the third period by asking this question: can those variations be attributed to the way referes attribute penalties in the 3rd period, or the teams play in the 3rd period ? Without any data to verify this, I would be tempted to intuitively believe that teams change their style of play during the 3rd period.

      Theorically, the job of the referees should be the direct cause of the way the teams play. And it seems logical to me that the “time is going up” effect in the end of the game affects the way teams play, according to the game context.

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  9. Colin says:

    I think you’re looking at the data wrong. In most of the cases you list above, penalties are called more in the third than they are in the first, and are called most in the second. So the real question is why are they calling things more in the second? Is there a reason inherent to the game that makes this happen or is it the refs?

    Out of curiosity, what are the infractions you left out of your totals? The total number of penalties called per period in your chart doesn’t add up to the total number of penalties called. What did you leave out and why?

    • Pat - Igloo Dreams says:

      Colin – There were 50 distinct types of penalties called in 2009-10, which would have made a rather large chart. I listed most of the ones that happened with regularity… The ones I left off would include things that didn’t happen very often, like Abuse of Officials or Illegal Stick

      • Colin says:

        Yeah – I actually read the full 2 articles after I posted, so I answered my own question on that one. Heh.

        But my first point still stands.

  10. Josh says:

    I couldn’t agree more, my biggest problem with the NHL this past year was the inconsistency in the officiating, going both ways!!! The refs either need to call everything or call nothing. The players get confused because they’re not sure what their limits are and the fans get confused because they feel the refs are making calls against their team on purpose. I also hate the grey area calls,for instance, goal keeper interference. That in my opinion is the worst for the game. It allows the refs to make game changing calls and get away with them, when in reality, many other refs could easily look the other way. I think a video showing all violations be sent out at the beginning of the year. If the infraction is on the video, then 2 minutes in the box, if it’s not, then let them play!

  11. Oilslick says:

    I’m not sure where you get the 27% drop in hooking and interference calls. For hooking, 34% of calls are made in the 1st, 38% in the 2nd and 27% in the 3rd. For interference, the trend is the same, with the numbers being 35%, 37% and 27% respectively. I agree that there are less calls being made in the 3rd period, but the drop isn’t nearly as drastic as you’re making it out to be. Am I missing something?

    • Pat - Igloo Dreams says:

      Oilslick – Hooking drops from 661 in the second period to 480 in the third – that’s a 27% drop (same math for Interference – just different numbers)

      • Colin says:

        But statistically, the second period is the outlier, not the third. It’s numbers are higher in nearly all types of penalties, meaning it’s not that fewer penalties are being called in the third but that more are being called in the second.

        • Pat - Igloo Dreams says:

          @Colin – I agree, and that’s probably a subject for a different post. This one was just to look at Hooking and Interference and to highlight that while most other penalties didn’t drop significantly in the third, those two did.

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