ESPN’s experiment in showing KHL hockey live across its various media platforms opened with two of the KHL’s best teams in the West, but the game experience was less than ideal for many different reasons as Dynamo Moscow beat HC Lev Praha 1-0.
Barry Melrose and Steve Levy provided the commentary, though if you wanted straight play-by-play with occasional sidebars, you were out of luck. Much of the commentary was focused on explaining the minutiae of the NHL lockout, Melrose posturing about how it’s unfair for some locked-out players to seek alternate plans overseas (while commentating a game featuring some locked-out players) because he would not have been awarded the same opportunity, the differences between KHL and NHL styles of play, the fact that there are two players on Lev’s roster both named Juraj Mikus, the ads on the ice and the fact that Zdeno Chara and Alexander Ovechkin were playing.
The atmosphere in the booth felt like how it is when two old friends reunite at a sports bar and joyfully watch a game on the ubiquitous TVs mounted to the wall, but without having to worry about being the primary commentators. There were even some references to the Soviet Union because it is 1991, not 2012, apparently.
Plus, since the KHL doesn’t take TV timeouts for commercials, ESPN 2 viewers missed some of the game whenever the network broke for ads, although only a few minutes every time.
Lev started the game with good pressure, getting the first few shots on goal, continuing the pressure throughout the first two periods of play but to no avail as the scoreboard read 0-0. Zdeno Chara threw a big check at one point that had the home crowd cheering–just as the commentators pointed out that they don’t get as physical in the KHL.
But in the end, it all came down to Alexander Ovechkin and a goal that I personally think would’ve been waved off by NHL officials as goaltender interference. (Remember when people were crowing that goalie interference was being called too often? It seems so long ago now.) Lev’s goalie was out of position, but then Ovechkin seemed to plow into him and basically score while sitting on him. I will admit to not being Ovechkin’s biggest fan, nor a fan of the hype around him that continued in today’s commentary, so when Lev played well for much of the game but got nothing for their efforts and seemed to deflate after that goal–wait, now that sounds like how the Bruins were at some points last season!
In short, while it was nice to see new hockey on TV and good to see Chara again (plus, nice to see via Twitter that at least one Bruins teammate and one Capitals teammate in Andrew Ference and Michal Neuvirth watching their coworkers), this experience was less than idea for many reasons, but primarily the commentary. No other KHL games have plans to air on ESPN 2, though the network may be analyzing responses to this game to see about planning future airings.
Perhaps in looking at viewer responses to this game, ESPN could find a different pair to call future games.