The puck never dropped, but it was an offensive zone faceoff that lead to the St. Louis Blues’ game-winning goal against the San Jose Sharks.

A false start and a faceoff violation penalty moved the draw to the opposite end of the ice, putting the Sharks shorthanded. Twelve seconds later, the puck was in the net behind Sharks goaltender Devan Dubnyk, giving the Blues a lead they would not relinquish.

Linesman Trent Knorr tossed San Jose’s Tomas Hertl from the dot. Patrick Marleau stepped in to take the draw, but jumped the gun trying to anticipate the puck drop.  The linesman skated over to referee Wes McCauley, who announced the penalty: “San Jose has a bench minor penalty for a faceoff violation.”

A goal from St. Louis captain Ryan O’Reilly moments later put the Blues up 3-2.

Sharks head coach Bob Boughner discussed the pivotal play after the game.

“Ridiculous. Absolutely ridiculous,” Boughner said. “I think everybody in the rink — their team, our team, the other linesman, the refs — I think everybody was shocked. It was a brutal, brutal call that in my mind cost us.  It turned the whole game around and took the game out of our hands a little bit there, and we’re playing catch up and trying to cheat.

“There was really no explanation for it there. Just a horrible call. I guess he spun too early or something? I don’t know. I’ve watched it three times. It’s completely fine. It’s Patty Marleau, by the way. The guy’s going to set Gordie Howe’s [games played] record and you threw him in the box and it affected the whole game. Just use your head.”

“It’s frustrating for me and I don’t want to say the wrong thing. But what went on there was a travesty.”

Is Boughner really implying that setting a games-played record should affect whether or not a penalty was called?  Does a high-stick matter less if it comes from a leading scorer or a future lock for the Hall of Fame?  We’ll get to the rule in a moment.

“I haven’t seen that call in I don’t know how long,” Boughner added. “I know this year I haven’t seen this call, maybe throughout the whole league.”

Faceoff violation penalties have been called 14 times this season.  Ten for a hand pass off the faceoff, and four for a violation like the one committed.  Sure, it’s not a common call, but it is being called across the league. For what it’s worth, different officiating crews have called each of those, so it’s not one rogue linesman out for justice.

San Jose center Patrick Marleau was surprised to be whistled on the play.

“Extremely shocked,” Marleau said of the call. “I thought it was a good, clean draw. Then you see on the replay, I still think that way. Their player’s stick was even on my side of the dot before the puck was dropped. It is what it is.”

NBC Sports reported that Sharks goalie Devan Dubnyk said he couldn’t remember an official making such a call, not since the exhibition preseason in 2017.  Perhaps he just hasn’t watched enough hockey.

“It’s embarrassing,” Dubnyk said. “It’s Mickey Mouse. I don’t care if you want to say ‘Follow the rule book.’ It’s completely ridiculous to make a call like that in a 2-2 hockey game in the third period in the middle of the season. I don’t know what else to say. It’s incredible.”

Once again, a player expects a call or non-call because of a game situation.  The implication is that it would be a penalty in other situations, but that certain penalties – or perhaps all penalties – shouldn’t be called in close games, especially late.  When does Dubnyk think those penalties should be called?  I wonder how he feels about a difference in calling goaltender interference in the middle of the season compared with in a pivotal playoff game.

Blues captain Ryan O’Reilly had a different take.

“I struggled at the dot tonight.  I thought they were cheating quite a bit [on faceoffs],” O’Reilly said. “If you cheat, you get called. It happens.”

San Jose had the clear advantage, winning 32 of 54 draws (59%) in the game.

Here’s the relevant part of the face-off rule (76.6):

If a center should move prematurely prior to the face-off, or if the Referee or Linesman shall have dropped the puck unfairly, the face-off shall be considered a face-off violation and it must be conducted again.

When a least two face-off violations have been committed by the same team during the same face-off, this team shall be penalized with a bench minor penalty to the offending team. This penalty shall be announced as a “Bench Minor Penalty for Delay of Game – Face-off Violation.”

Face-off violations shall be summarized as follows (any of the four on-ice officials may identify a face-off violation):  … 

(iv) Failure by either center taking the face-off to properly position himself behind the restraining lines or place his stick on the ice (as outlined in Rule 76.4). “Properly position himself behind the restraining lines” shall mean that the center must place his feet on either side of the restraining lines that are parallel to the side boards (contact with the lines is permissible), and the toe of the blade of his skates must not cross over the restraining lines that are perpendicular to the side boards as he approaches the face-off spot. The blade of the stick must then be placed on the ice (at least the toe of the blade of the stick) in the designated white area of the faceoff spot and must remain there until the puck is dropped. Failure to comply with this positioning and face-off procedure will result in a face-off violation.

Whenever a team has committed two face-off violations during the same face-off, the Referee shall immediately assess the offending team a bench minor penalty for delay of game. This penalty shall be announced as a “Bench Minor Penalty for Delay of Game – Face-off Violation.”

And an excerpt from Rule 76.4, referenced above:

[…] the defending player shall place his stick within the designated white area first followed immediately by the attacking player. 

If a player facing-off fails to take his proper position immediately when directed by the official, the official may order him replaced for that face-off by any teammate then on the ice.

If a player is ejected from the face-off, his replacement must come into position quickly or risk having the puck dropped by the Linesman without the player being set, or ejected from the face-off by the Linesman resulting in a bench minor penalty for delay of game for a second face-off violation during the same face-off.



Referees for the game were Wes McCauley (#4) and Jake Brenk (#26). Linesmen were Trent Knorr (#74) and Kory Nagy (#97).