Goaltender Interference – Are Replay Reviews Putting Goalies At Risk?
At the moment, it appears that the NHL rules regarding goaltender interference have become barely more than loose guidelines. Eventually, someone is going to get hurt.
A prime example occurred at Nashville’s Bridgestone Arena on Monday, April 17, during Game 3 of the opening round playoff series between the Predators and the Chicago Blackhawks. Thinking that they might just be able to claw their way back into the series from a 2-0 game deficit, the Hawks were clinging to a 2-1 lead late in the third period. Their hopes were dashed when Filip Forsberg notched Nashville’s tying goal with less than 6 minutes remaining.
Chicago Head Coach Joel Quenneville challenged the call on the ice, looking for goalie interference, but the goal was allowed to stand. Nashville went on to win in overtime, 3-2, and later swept the series from the Blackhawks.
On the pivotal game-tying goal in Game 3, Victor Arvidsson (38) leads Forsberg (9) and Ryan Johansen (92) on an offensive rush. Arvidsson chips the puck into the deep right corner, retrieves it himself, and passes back to Johansen on the half wall. Johansen, in turn, works the puck back to Ryan Ellis (4) at the right point, who sends a shot toward Corey Crawford in the Chicago net.
After Crawford makes an initial save on Ellis’s shot, Arvidsson works his way in front of the Chicago crease, becoming entangled with Crawford. Ellis’ initial shot rebounds into traffic, and Forsberg ultimately sends it over Crawford’s left pad into the net.
Examining the play in detail, it’s difficult to reach the same conclusion as the NHL replay officials.
This is NHL Rule 69.4, and its situational applications, straight from the rulebook:
A review of the contact between Arvidsson and Crawford should begin with Crawford’s position, which he establishes outside the crease as Ryan Ellis prepares to shoot from the point.
He makes an initial save on the defenseman’s slapshot, and prepares to play the rebound.
Crawford may move slightly forward, but this occurs in the process of making his save. He drops into his butterfly, and tracks the puck onto, and off of, his right pad. When contact with Arvidsson occurs, Crawford’s overall depth and overhead footprint has not substantially changed, nor has he altered his position in any way other than the normal actions of playing his position.
The next piece of the puzzle that needs to be evaluated is Arvidsson’s intent and skating path. Arvidsson is required to make every possible effort to avoid contact with the goaltender, even if the goaltender is outside of his crease.
By the time Ellis shoots, Arvidsson has circled back toward the net.
The Predators’ forward moves out from below the goal line with his inside right and outside left skate edges engaged, taking a path wide of Crawford and parallel to the left side of the crease.
When he reaches a depth about halfway up the crease, Arvidsson disengages his right skate entirely from the ice, and makes a hard inside edge cut with his left skate. This initiates a new path that takes him directly across the front of Crawford. The position of his right skate, which he lifts off the ice and tucks in next to his left lower leg, suggests that he is anticipating contact with the Chicago goaltender.
Arvidsson collides with Crawford as Forsberg attempts to control and redirect Ellis’ rebound.
Even if the argument could be made that Arvidsson is entitled to his path, and therefore body contact with Crawford is incidental, it’s still not the end of the story.
As Arvidsson approaches the crease, he holds his stick well above the crossbar, and he continues to do so as he crosses in front of Crawford.
Just as he enters Crawford’s space, with the puck nearly six feet away and nowhere along his path, he swings his stick with a hard, downward motion, directly onto Crawford’s stick blade.
This forceful downward motion of his stick causes Arvidsson’s right upper arm to drive into the left side of Crawford’s head.
Arvidsson’s stick pressure pushes Crawford’s stick blade against his left skate.
Arvidsson’s contact rotates Crawford’s body and pulls his stick and right arm away from the puck. Crawford has little chance to make a play on Forsberg’s rebound attempt.
Given that Arvidsson’s primary point of contact is Crawford’s head, a penalty could easily have been considered on this play. In fact, according to NHL Rule 69.4, non-incidental contact with a goaltender warrants a two-minute penalty, even if it occurs outside of the crease. Appropriately, though, this remains at the discretion of the on-ice officials, and no one is advocating for penalties to be given out when players are simply jostling for position.
However, this play raises a larger issue than the simple question of whether or not a goal was fairly allowed. There have been far too many injuries to goalies caused by direct head contact this season. As a recent example, Frederik Andersen’s postseason was put at risk on this hit by the Penguins’ Tom Sestito.
Sestito picks a safe line to begin, then jumps sideways into Andersen as the shot comes. He isn't pushed. pic.twitter.com/EfsiCoUIIB
— InGoal Magazine (@InGoalMedia) April 9, 2017
This is a violent collision, initiated by Sestito on an unprotected goaltender. Sestito was given a 2-minute goaltender interference penalty on the play, but his punishment should have been more severe.
Goaltenders, and their heads, are extremely vulnerable, particularly with modern visual techniques that require a slightly forward head position. It’s also important to remember that goalie masks are designed primarily to protect against 100-mph shots to the face and forehead. A forceful blow to the side of a the head from another player is therefore dangerous not only because it’s unexpected, but because a goalie’s head is not optimally protected against this mechanism of impact.
Even if on-ice officials did not feel that Arvidsson’s stick and head contact with Crawford was worthy of a penalty, it’s difficult to understand why Joel Quenneville’s challenge wasn’t upheld. Rule 69.4 specifies that if the puck enters the net as a result of non-incidental contact with the goaltender, even if outside the crease, the goal should be disallowed. Replay officials apparently determined that Arvidsson’s play resulted only in incidental contact, despite presumably reviewing the same footage available here. Forsberg’s late goal was allowed to stand, rewarding Arvidsson’s contact with Crawford and providing Nashville the opportunity to take a likely insurmountable 3-0 lead in the series.
The NHL rules regarding goaltender interference need to be regarded as the primary safeguard of the health of goalies throughout hockey. If there are no significant consequences to players initiating potentially dangerous contact with goaltenders, then there is no deterrence. Further, if these plays are rewarded, like this one by Victor Arvidsson, then the number and intensity of these collisions will increase. For the record, this is not a good thing for the game.
Everyone wants exciting hockey. Everyone wants to see talented players score goals. No one wants to see their favorite goaltender lying on his back in the crease, grabbing his head.