The Capitals lost Game Two to the Penguins 2-1. Late in the second period, the Capitals tied the game… or so we thought. The Caps and Pens scrummed in front of the net, then the puck bounced out to Nate Schmidt, who roofed it. Washington’s players on the ice celebrated, Verizon Center lost its collective mind, and the official waved it off.
Instead of a goal, the Caps got a penalty: Evgeny Kuznetsov for goalie interference. Barry Trotz was furious, demanding an explanation as the Verizon Center crowd erupted in a “Ref, you suck!” chant.
Let’s take a closer look at this pivotal moment.
After TJ Oshie fired a shot from the perimeter, the puck stayed loose near the crease. Alex Ovechkin and Kuznetsov frantically whacked at it. Eventually, Kuznetsov gained possession and put a backhanded shot on Matt Murray. The puck rebounded to Nate Schmidt. He one-timed it.
But as Kuznetsov skated through the crease, he fell onto goaltender Matt Murray, impeding Murray’s ability to make a save.
Upon closer look, Kuznetsov was making a legitimate hockey play. He got ever so slightly pushed by Trevor Daley and hooked by Kris Letang, then he tripped over Murray’s stick, which was laying flat on the ice.
In my opinion, the goal should have been disallowed, but Kuznetsov should not have been penalized.
69.1 – Interference on the Goalkeeper
Goals should be disallowed only if: (1) an attacking player, either by his positioning or by contact, impairs the goalkeeper’s ability to move freely within his crease or defend his goal; or (2) an attacking player initiates intentional or deliberate contact with a goalkeeper, inside or outside of his goal crease. Incidental contact with a goalkeeper will be permitted, and resulting goals allowed, when such contact is initiated outside of the goal crease, provided the attacking player has made a reasonable effort to avoid such contact. The rule will be enforced exclusively in accordance with the on-ice judgement of the Referee(s), and not by means of video replay or review.
The overriding rationale of this rule is that a goalkeeper should have the ability to move freely within his goal crease without being hindered by the actions of an attacking player. If an attacking player enters the goal crease and, by his actions, impairs the goalkeeper’s ability to defend his goal, and a goal is scored, the goal will be disallowed.
So the referee got this 100 percent correct. Murray couldn’t move. With Kuznetsov laying on top of him, Murray was a beached whale.
But here’s the second part of the rule, 69.2, where the NHL explains when a penalty should be called:
69.2 – Penalty
In all cases in which an attacking player initiates intentional or deliberate contact with a goalkeeper, whether or not the goalkeeper is inside or outside the goal crease, and whether or not a goal is scored, the attacking player will receive a penalty (minor or major, as the Referee deems appropriate). In all cases where the infraction being imposed is to the attacking player for hindering the goalkeeper’s ability to move freely in his goal crease, the penalty to be assessed is for goalkeeper interference.
In no way was Kuznetsov making intentional or deliberate contact with Murray. He was making a hockey play and he was tripped and grabbed. He fell over over a stick; he wasn’t trying to frog splash Murray.
The Penguins didn’t score on the resulting power play, but the penalty deflated the arena and deprived the Capitals of the momentum for the rest of the period.
Do better, NHL referees.
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