Raanta-ing on questioning obvious goalie interference call
The goal was to present the reasons why consistent rulings were paramount to competitive fairness and player safety, and even make a few suggestions about how the NHL could streamline the process and ensure that everyone’s best interests were represented in the replay review system.
Our hope was that, by presenting and interpreting a myriad of video examples, and closely examining the wording and intent of the Official Rules, the NHL fanbase would be well-informed and able to understand the rulings of on-ice and replay officials, whether correct or incorrect.
Well, that would have been nice.
The first quarter of the 2017-18 NHL season has again brought its fair share of confusion and contested goalie interference interpretations. The latest – and most talked-about – example occurred in Toronto on Monday, Nov. 20, with the Arizona Coyotes clinging to a 2-1 lead over the Maple Leafs in their attempt to complete a wholly unexpected sweep of Eastern Canada.
With just under four minutes remaining in regulation, Auston Matthews (34) appears to tie the game with a sensational individual effort.
Immediately, Coyotes goalie Antti Raanta looks to the referee. On the regular television angle, as well as the end replay, it’s clear that something is odd about the way Raanta defends against this attempt by Matthews. He is deep inside his own goal, slow to track Matthews’ path behind the net, and off-balance as he challenges Matthews’ shot attempt.
On the side angle replay, an explanation is visible.
Zach Hyman (11) is engaged with two Coyotes, defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson (23), and right wing Christian Fischer (36). Hyman’s stick is nearly parallel to the ice, with the blade toe-up in Raanta’s chest and lower neck.
As Matthews drives lower and begins to circle behind the net, Hyman’s stick pushes Raanta back across his own goal line. Raanta uses his glove hand to try to disengage from Hyman’s blade.
Matthews maintains continuous control of the puck from start to finish, including a nifty pass off the end boards to himself. Raanta attempts to defend against him, but Matthews steps out from his drive behind the net, settles the puck at the low circle, and beats Raanta to his short side.
After replay review, the initial ruling on the ice was reversed because of goaltender interference, and the goal was disallowed. Our InGoal review agrees.
Let’s take a closer look. (For reference, the full NHL Rule Book is available here.) The applicable portions from which these excerpts are obtained include Rule 69 – Interference on the Goalkeeper, and supplemental Table 16 – Interference on the Goalkeeper Situations.
It’s clear that Hyman’s stick makes contact with Raanta while Raanta is in the crease. Hyman is also well within the crease when it happens.
Therefore, the first question that needs to be answered is whether Hyman’s stick contact with Raanta is caused by a Coyotes defender.
The correct answer here is that the contact is not caused by Christian Fischer, despite Fischer’s engagement with Hyman well above the crease, and despite the fact that Fischer and Ekman-Larsson likely contribute to Hyman’s presence in the crease during the play.
In fact, had there not been any stick contact with Raanta, it is highly unlikely that Hyman’s position would have been grounds to disallow Matthews’ goal.
However, because it is Hyman’s stick that makes contact with Raanta at some distance from Hyman’s position, and there is no evidence of any manipulation of his stick by either Coyotes player, it is unreasonable to say that the stick contact on Raanta was caused by an opponent’s action. In fact, taking this one step further, Hyman makes forceful and prolonged contact to Raanta’s upper chest and neck region with the blade and tip of his stick. Had this been clearly viewed in real time by the referee, a spearing penalty on Hyman could certainly have been considered.
Already, then, there are grounds to disallow any goal that is scored on this play.
Now back to the effect this contact has on Raanta’s ability to move within his crease and defend his goal.
As Matthews carries the puck behind the net, Raanta is forced behind the goal line by Hyman’s stick. There is no embellishment of contact. Instead, Raanta fights to disengage the stick blade with his glove hand, then manages to push himself over to his left post to defend against a potential wraparound attempt by Matthews.
The majority of Raanta’s body is still well behind the goal line, even though he has managed to get his glove across in front of the post. Ultimately, he is able to get his left pad against the inside of the post, and his shoulders out of the net.
This is far from an ideal position, nor is it a position that Raanta would find himself in under normal circumstances. Tracking a puck carrier behind the net and moving across the goal line from post-to-post is a foundation skill that is taught at all levels of hockey. Any NHL goalie is perfectly capable of executing the technique, even if there are occasional misplays. Rather than a skate blade or pad toe against the post, though, Raanta is forced to try to seal the post with the middle of his left pad. Even though his shoulders appear to be “square” to Matthews’ threat, he is much deeper in the crease than he would normally be positioned. When Raanta pushes out toward Matthews’ step-back shot, he is not pushing from a controlled, set position; rather, he is lunging forward.
Much of the discussion about the review ruling, even among those who agreed with it – including Roberto Luongo – has centered around whether Raanta had enough time to reestablish his positioning, or was able to “reset” himself to defend against Matthews’ shot.
Former NHL goaltender Kevin Weekes, on the NHL Network during the broadcast, argued that the goal should have counted. Weekes’ reasoning was that because Matthews had stepped out to the low face-off circle rather than attempt a wraparound, Raanta had adequate time to recover, citing the relatively “square” angling of his shoulders and Raanta’s forward challenge in response to Matthews’ release.
Toronto coach Mike Babcock had a different take as to why the goal should have been allowed, maintaining after the game that Matthews’ shot would have gone in regardless of the initial contact.
Though both of these arguments would seem to be implied, there is no specific instruction in the Rulebook to consider whether or not the goaltender had time to “reset himself” or “re-establish position,” nor is there any consideration as to whether or not a shot might have gone in even if the goalie had been able to defend the play optimally. In fact, the statement of Rule 69’s “overriding rationale” leaves little doubt that in the case of any situation or argument that isn’t specifically addressed, the benefit of the doubt is to be given to the goaltender, not the attacking player.
In this example, Zach Hyman’s stick makes forcible contact with Antti Raanta in the upper chest and neck. This action prevents Raanta from maintaining his initial right post integration, and displaces him into an undesirable position from which the Arizona goalie has to recover before he is able to attempt to defend against Auston Matthews’ scoring chance from the opposite side of the net.
Simply put, regardless of the time involved, or the quality of offensive skill on display, Auston Matthews’ disallowed goal occurs as the end result of a continuous play on which the opposing goaltender was prevented from executing a fundamental goaltending movement by an attacking player. This is Interference on the Goalkeeper, both by the letter and the spirit of the Rules, and there should be no argument that the NHL replay officials made the correct decision.