Ottawa Senators’ Derick Brassard (19) collides with Pittsburgh Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury (29) for a goaltender interference penalty in the first period of an NHL hockey game in Pittsburgh. The NHL took steps to simplify reviews of goaltender interference but what constitutes an infraction is as fuzzy as ever, as two new controversies this week showed. (Photo by THE CANADIAN PRESS)

NHL players confused over league’s goaltender interference rule

BROSSARD, Que. — If fans are confused about what constitutes goaltender interference in the NHL, well so are the players.

At least that was the feeling players expressed Friday as the Anaheim Ducks and Montreal both practised at the Canadiens’ training centre.

The night before, controversial goals were allowed against the Jets in Winnipeg and the St. Louis Blues in Boston where goalies were contacted before the puck went into the net.

“I guess it’s discretionary,” said Canadiens goalie Carey Price. “I couldn’t tell you what’s a penalty and what’s not.

“That’s something that I don’t understand.”

There is plenty of room for interpretation by officials on interference in the NHL rulebook. Phrases like “incidental contact” can be read in different ways depending on the play. Price said the league has done a good job of penalizing skaters who crash into goalies, but in cases when a goal can be allowed or called back, it’s often a toss-up.

“It’s just one of those sports rules that you can’t really lay a concrete foundation, I suppose,” he said. “You can only have guidelines, but whenever you have a guideline, there’s always that grey area.

“I’ve always just tried to get to the top of my crease and wherever I set up, that should be my area.”

The league is looking for answers. The topic was raised at a board of governors meeting at the all-star game in Tampa last weekend, and commissioner Gary Bettman and senior vice-president Colin Campbell had a separate meeting with coaches, general managers and referees who were in town for the game. In the previous week, stars Connor McDavid of Edmonton and Auston Matthews of Toronto were involved in disputed calls.

A memo was circulated around the league saying officials should watch the play at normal speed and, unless an obvious foul pops up, the original call on the ice should stand.

That should speed up the process, and perhaps fix some of the more egregious incidents, but likely won’t end the howls of protest from players and coaches when a decision goes against their team. And goalies are now wondering if they need to start embellishing contact to get the officials attention.

In Winnipeg, goalie Connor Hellebuyck was slashed on the mask by James Neal as Vegas’ Erik Huala scored. In Boston, goalie Jake Allen was swept out of his crease by a sliding Jake DeBrusk, leaving an open net for David Krejci.

“I can take a stick to the face, but just because I don’t throw my head back and make it obvious, I feel like I got kind of screwed on this,” Hellebuyck lamented after the game.

There was consternation in Edmonton in May when Corey Perry backed into Cam Talbot just as a goal was scored that helped Anaheim come back from a two-goal deficit for a key Game 4 win in their second round playoff series.

Perry also has no idea what will or won’t be called, but won’t stop going to the net looking for goals.

“It can go any way on any given night,” said Perry. “It is what it is and you just keep pushing forward.

“You have to score and you have to go to those areas to score. If it doesn’t go your way you move on. I think in the end they even out but you might not be happy on a given night.”

Former NHL goalie Brian Hayward, the analyst on Ducks’ broadcasts, has noticed something of a pattern to the calls.

“Where I see the interference being called is when the goalie is being aggressive,” said Hayward. “We had an incident with the Ducks (Thursday) night where Bobby Ryan had both skates in the crease, but Ryan Miller didn’t make it look like he was trying to get to the top of the crease.

“You almost have to do that now — to fight for your space. I don’t know if embellishing it a bit helps or not, but I know that the hyper-aggressive goaltenders like Jon Quick in Los Angeles, who like to play in front of the crease, seem to get the calls a lot more than the guys that play a little more passively.”

Montreal forward Brendan Gallagher, who likes to park near the crease, recognizes there may be no clear cut way to interpret the rules, but says there is a way for the calls to be consistent.

“To me it feels like an easy solution,” said Gallagher. “Right now, there’s a call on the ice and it’s a different person making the decision every night when the refs look at it.

“That’s where the inconsistencies come from. If you just have one or two people sitting in an office in Toronto watching the games and they make the final decision, you’ll start to see more consistency because they’ll have the same viewpoint on the rule.

“It isn’t something that’s black and white, but if it’s the same person making the decision over and over, you’ll start to get more consistency and players will start to understand it.”

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