On Saturday night Alexander Ovechkin was stopped short on his bid to pass Sergei Federov as the all time Russian born NHL goal scoring leader. Toronto Maple Leafs netminder James Reimer couldn’t shut the door but a successful coach’s challenge for goalie interference did. With league wide goals per game scoring down to almost the same record low average it was at before the 2004-2005 lock out, you can’t help but wonder if with a few of the new rule changes, the NHL isn’t shooting itself in the foot.
Leafs coach Mike Babcock challenged Ovechkin’s historic marker claiming Justin Williams had prevented Reimer from making the save. Much like the NFL has taken drastic strides to protect quarterbacks, resulting in extremely high pass yards per game numbers, the rules designed to protect goalies have added significant percentage points to the average NHL goaltending save percentage. By the letter of the current law I do think Williams made incidental contact with Reimer, pushing him backwards strongly enough that he couldn’t recover positionally to make the save. Yet when I watch the play, I don’t think Williams was ever in the crease. Reimer’s skates were still in the crease but Williams only made contact with a part of Reimer’s body that was out beyond the blue paint. There have been too many of these instances in recent years to ignore that the current rules are excessive. They even go so far as to allow goalies to initiate contact with an attacking player and it still counts as interference.
To solve the lack of scoring the NHL has eliminated obstructions and picks, they’ve taken away the two line pass, and they’ve taken away the option of a line change on an icing. All of these things have definitely opened the game up, but they all contribute to a continuously and excessively quick rate of play, resulting in more dangerous situations for out players than ever before. Oddly enough, with all that unobstructed speed and freedom for attacking players there was a surprisingly high number of incidents of players wrecklessly driving the net and causing serious injuries to themselves (see Why Don Cherry Was Wrong) defensemen, and for the most part, goalies.
So then they had to make changes for goalies with the bigger crease, oversized equipment and a virtual forcefield around them no matter where they are on the ice. It’s a wonder any player can get a shot from closer than 20 feet out and not have it called back. With the coach’s challenge we’ve already seen too high a number of overturned goals. Some might argue that they’re finally “getting it right” and by the rulebook today I think they are. I do believe they were right to initiate major changes in the rules to open the game up when they did, but the new generation of players have had it way too easy. It’s time to close the game back up and let the creativity of the players safely figure out ways to find room out there instead of the rulebook handing it to them.
Verdict: coach’s challenge correct, no goal.
Rule changes: Goaltenders fair game outside the crease. Allow some holding up in the neutral zone and heading into the corners.