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Lightning gently pokes at referees

Choosing their words carefully, players say they merely want more consistency.

By DAMIAN CRISTODERO
Published November 21, 2007


BRANDON - Lightning players were careful Tuesday not to turn a minor penalty into a major controversy involving referees.

As defenseman Brad Lukowich said, "I know if I make a stupid play, the refs aren't skating up behind me and saying, 'Bonehead play."'

So a day after Paul Devorski's questionable holding call on Brad Richards led to the Thrashers' winning overtime goal, players simply, and calmly, said they want the standard for penalties applied more consistently.

The league's director of officiating, Stephen Walkom, said numerous "check and balances" help maintain the standard.

But Lukowich, after a workout at the Ice Sports Forum, insisted, "There should be less of a gray area. When the ref and rules are enforced the right and proper way, the players just go out and play. That's what we do."

The Lightning believes consistency took a beating against the Thrashers, especially when Richards was called for holding after barely touching Tobias Enstrom, who went down, replays showed, when skates tangled.

That after Atlanta's Pascal Dupuis avoided a first-period call for bodying Lukowich to the ice while pursuing a puck neither had touched.

Dupuis got the puck. The Thrashers got a goal.

"I know every ref has their own style and the way they like the game to be played," defenseman Shane O'Brien said. "But as a player, that is the toughest part, knowing what a penalty is and what isn't a penalty."

"You have to play it like they're going to call everything, that's your best bet," defenseman Mike Lundin said. "Some games you go in and they're calling everything right away. Some games they let it all go and start calling it at the end. It's kind of hard with the consistency with what's going to be called throughout the night or game to game."

Walkom said he believes consistency is less of an issue because of a multi-platform plan.

He said each group of officials two referees and two linesman does an "internal audit" after games to evaluate performance. He said officials get DVDs of their games for "self observation. And we as a league ask them to look at plays."

There are weekly rules tests via e-mail, Walkom said, all to make sure "we reinforce what the NHL standard is on every penalty."

A standard that changed radically with the anti-obstruction rules implemented after the 2004-05 lockout.

"As a team, collectively, we have games we might be off," Walkom said. "There are games you get caught watching and not reffing. But as a team, we're getting better and better at knowing what a penalty is and what isn't."

"It's not like they're picking on us," O'Brien said. "If you ask any player on the ice, they would say the same thing. Would we like to see more consistency? Yes."

Perhaps tonight when Tampa Bay plays the Rangers at the St. Pete Times Forum.

"At the end of the day they're humans," O'Brien said of the refs. "They make mistakes. I know I don't play perfect games out there. We have to deal with it and move forward."

WILL TORTorella BE FINED?: League disciplinarian Colin Campbell apparently is deliberating whether to fine Lightning coach John Tortorella for disparaging remarks made Monday about the officiating in Tampa Bay's 4-3 overtime loss to the Thrashers.