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Why are there too many too many men on the ice penalties?

May 4, 2010, 4:30 PM EST

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Aside from diving, the most avoidable penalty in hockey might just be too many men on the ice. Dan Pollard of NHL.com speculates on why, by his count, there have been an unreal 25 instances of the penalty so far this season.

What’s happening here? I guess you look at scoring chances in the second period and figure players are eager to jump into the play. Line matchups certainly can create confusion on the bench. As players are matched and their opposite line switches up or jumps back over the boards, players can jump early. Situational reads can also quickly change the best-laid plans.

Chicago’s Ben Eager became “too many men on the ice” victim No. 25 Monday when he turned away from the bench to play the puck against the Canucks. Eager was lucky the Canucks came up empty on the power play. It’s not always easy to lay blame, but this was a clear cut case of Ben being too Eager.

The chicken or the egg argument came up in Game 5 of the Caps’ first-round series with Montreal when Semyon Varlamov made a dash to the bench before quickly retreating back to his net. Was it Varlamov’s fault for turning back when he saw the play heading up ice or was it his teammates for not accessing the play and jumping too early?

To me, a net-emptying situation might the most acceptable instance. Particularly if the opposing team gains control of the puck before a goalie can get all the way across the ice, forcing the netminder to hesitate to get to the bench (or even need to make a save).

There have been a few times already in which a team’s self-inflicted wound was “fatal.” Pollard points out two.

Two teams have paid the ultimate penalty for having an extra jersey on the ice in overtime this playoff season. In the first round, Anze Kopitar scored with the man advantage for L.A. in OT of Game 2 against Vancouver, and Miroslav Satan scored the game winner in the second overtime for Boston in Game 4 against Buffalo.

There were also a couple cases in which a last minute penalty stemmed the comeback tide for teams. Both the Red Wings and Capitals only earned a 5-on-5 after emptying their nets thanks to Too Many Men on the Ice penalties.

Perhaps the increasing speed and competitiveness of these playoff games makes such infractions unavoidable? Are zebras focusing on calling the penalty more often than before? Either way, I wouldn’t be surprised if the violation costs another team a big game before the playoffs are over.

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