The New York Islanders suffered a heart-breaking loss to the New York Rangers on Tuesday as goalie interference and the unclarity around the rule took center stage.
On Tuesday, the New York Islanders faced the New York Rangers at the Nassau Coliseum. The Islanders dominated their rivals through much of the game. But after 24 seconds of overtime, the Islanders found themselves with only one point as Mikka Zibanejad scored the OT winner.
On the way to that 4-3 loss goaltender interference reared it’s ugly head twice. The controversial rule could have changed the game for the Islanders, on both occasions. But because no one actually seems to know what goalie interference is the Islanders lost out both times.
This is a problem.
What is goalie interference anyways?
Let me be clear, the controversy around goaltender interference isn’t that the rule exists. It’s that no one seems to understand how to apply the rule. And by everyone I mean everyone. Players, coaches, referees, fans and even the NHL. No one has a consistent handle on the rule. And that’s a huge problem.
On Tuesday, we all saw that problem manifest itself.
First, it’s important to at least lay out what the rule is. Here’s the basic rule from the NHL rule book:
"Rule 69.1: This rule is based on the premise that an attacking player’s position, whether inside or outside the crease, should not, by itself, determine whether a goal should be allowed or disallowed. In other words, goals scored while attacking players are standing in the crease may, in appropriate circumstances be allowed. 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 first infraction of the goalie interference rule came in the second period on
‘s goal that put the Rangers up 2-0. As McKegg tries to get in front of the net he clips
‘s leg with this skate he’s also in the way of any blocker movement by Varlamov.
Watch again, this time isolated to show the contract with Varlamov. As per the rule, it can be argued that due to the contract from McKegg, Varlamov was not able to move freely within his crease. But Trotz, according to his understanding of the rule thought there wasn’t enough there to overturn the call.
Fast-forward to the third period. The Islanders have a shot go in but the officials wave it off on the ice. They feel that Anders Lee was in the crease and prevented Alexandar Georgiev from stopping the puck. This time Barry Trotz challenges the play.
You can clearly see that Anders Lee is posted up at the top of the crease as Georgiev initiates contact to shove Lee out of the way. Lee re-establish his position at the top of the crease and Georgiev’s reaction is to back off and the puck goes in. There’s no contact from Lee.
After a quick review, the call on the ice stood; no goal.
The refs seemed to feel that Lee’s meet presence in the crease was enough to call the goal back, even though there are circumstances where standing in the crease is appropriate as the rule states:
"In other words, goals scored while attacking players are standing in the crease may, in appropriate circumstances be allowed."
So what are these “appropriate circumstances” for a player to be in the crease? According to the “overriding rationale” of the rule a player can be in the crease so long as he doesn’t interfere with the goalie’s ability to stop the puck.
"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."
There’s nothing that Anders Lee did in the crease here that impairs Georgiev from defending his goal. The only contact is initiated by Georgiev on Lee while the Islanders forward is at the top of the crease and not in the blue paint.
Do you see how this is a problem? Earlier in the game, the Islanders have a goal-against count and go unchallenged while later in the game a goal-for is disallowed with no contact made with the goalie.
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What are we doing here?
The NHL needs to clear the language on this rule in order to have it properly applied. This cost the Islanders a point in a tight division.