The NHL’s inconsistencies surrounding goaltender interference

April 24, 2012, by

Goaltender interference is a nebulous topic that often generates heated debates and a forgivably vague understanding of the actual rule on the play.  It is forgivable that most fans don’t know exactly how to apply the rule, since the rule itself is written so vaguely.

NHL Rule 69 ,“Interference on the Goalkeeper” is explained mostly in the context of allowing or disallowing goals, with very little substance about the penalty context.  The closest thing to explanatory language is:

“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.”

Under this provision, it would seem to me that Chris Kreider’s penalty last night wasn’t technically a penalty.  He neither intentionally or deliberately initiated contact with Anderson, nor did he hinder Anderson’s ability to move freely in his crease; he accidentally bumped into him.  Now, I suppose you could make an argument that bumping into him is hindering Anderson’s ability to move around his crease freely.  That’s true, but I think we can agree that the drafting of the rule left something to be desired in the clarity department.

So far in this series, we have seen both teams try to get bodies and pucks to the net, which as resulted in some questionable contact with the goaltenders.  Three plays stuck out to me last night alone of examples where contact with the goaltender became an issue: Nick Foligno’s goaltender inference penalty, Chris Kreider’s goalie interference penalty and Chris Neil’s goal at the end of the game.  Let’s break ‘em down and see what we come up with.

Foligno’s penalty was a play in which the 24 year old Buffalo native was crashing the net aggressively.  He has been involved in plays like this consistently since the start of the series.  Girardi seemed to steer Foligno into Lundqvist while trying to tie him up, but ultimately, Foligno had to much momentum and toppled over Hank.  Personally, I think this was the right call.  He clearly intended to get as close to Lundqvist as he could and didn’t seem to have the room to stop even had Girardi not made contact.  Hank’s ability to move in the crease was completely impaired, and it seems like the requisite intent was there.  This was a protect the goalie call.

Chris Kreider’s penalty came in a completely different context.  He was aggressively forechecking a cross-corner play, cut a little too close through the crease and made incidental contact with Anderson.  The refs seemed a little sensitive to certain kinds of contact last night, and this is consistent with the calls that were being made.  As I discussed above, it barely meets the criteria for the penalty under the rules, but it seemed to mesh with normal player-to-player interference, so I can understand the inclusion.  It would be nice if the rules actually spelled it out though.

Neil’s goal is debatable if goalie interference is involved at all from a practical standpoint. Typically, when a puck is in the crease, the goalie interference rules go out the window.  On a scramble like that, goalie interference is almost never called.  The more pressing issue here was whether Neil kicked the puck in (inconclusive, right…) The puck clearly sped up as Neil’s foot arrived in the area and Hank’s glove was pushing laterally across the crease.  The only object that was moving in the direction of the puck’s ultimate movement was Neil’s skate.  But back on topic.  Here is sample language from the disallow/allow section:

69.3 Contact Inside the Goal Crease – If an attacking player initiates contact with a goalkeeper, incidental or otherwise, while the goalkeeper is in his goal crease, and a goal is scored, the goal will be disallowed.

Neil clearly meets the definition of a goalie interference penalty under Rule 69.3.  He intentionally disrupted Lundqvist’s movement and impaired his ability to move around in his crease, but the rule is not applied.

As the playoffs go on and things get more physical, the goalie interference rule is going to become more prevalent.  It’s important to know that most of the application of the rule is at the complete discretion of the referee.  There are going to be plenty of calls we don’t agree with coming, but as strange as it sounds, there is almost no right answer.


  1. Jeff P says:

    Call on Kreider was debatable, but call on Foligno was not. In and of itself, it’s not a penalty – if a d-man bumps you into a goalie, it’s never called. However, Foligno and Neal CONSISTENTLY battered Lunquist throughout the game, and that call was just a culmination of all the crap Senators pulled all series.

    Our tough guys are clean players. They may be tough but Prust, Boyle and Rupp all play within the rules. Neal, Foligno and Konopka frequently cross that line. I’m glad Rangers put several hits on Karlsson at/after the whistle – they badly needed some quid pro quo.

    • Chris F says:

      Exactly, Jeff. I was about to make the same point. It’s a weak call on Foligno if the call stands alone. However, all series, and all game, Foligno had been crashing the net and making contact with Lundvist. Hank raised this issue with the refs and next time Foligno came crashing the ref came up to him and warned him. He had a short leash by then, so he was bound to get called.

  2. Jared says:

    I think we’re making the assumption here that NHL front office and the referees know or even care what the rules are. The rules, officiating and the front office’s discipline policy change from game to game and even play to play. No norms, no consistency. The people running this league should be ashamed of themselves.

  3. The Suit says:

    The problem with all of this is the rules around goalie interference are incredibly vague. Everyone knows that once the puck is in the crease the goalie is fair game. That is how the league has enforced it for years.

    However, where in the rule book is it clearly stated? It’s not. The closest thing is rule 69.6.

    “In a rebound situation, or where a goalkeeper and attacking player(s) are simultaneously attempting to play a loose puck, whether inside or outside the crease, incidental contact with the goalkeeper will be permitted, and any goal that is scored as a result thereof will be allowed.”

    Ok, but that speaks to the players themselves, not the puck. And how many times have we’ve seen deliberate contact be judge as “incidental”?

    The league needs to clarify this.

    • The Suit says:

      Want to confuse yourself? Read goalie interference rules 69.3, 69.6, and 69.6 Article C under Table 18. They all contradict each other.

  4. Walt says:

    Good post, but its a moot point. Hank was interfered with, he expressed his anger, and feelings. He has freedom of speech, but in this case Hank gets to pay in the area of $2,500, that is my guess.

    The bottom line is the officiating stinks to high heaven, and the crowd at MSG, game 7 should start a chant, The officals suck!!!!!

  5. Spozo says:

    Is anyone else completely disgusted with Neil’s comments after the game last night? He pretty much openly admitted that he headhunts for people with their heads down. What a classy guy. I’m glad MDZ knocked him on his ass. Of course he had the balls to complain about it after he knocked Boyle out of the series.

    • Chris F says:

      Neil is a bit of a loose cannon. I honestly believe he intends to injure people sometimes. MDZ needs to be aware of him at all times during game 7.

  6. SteveD says:

    I predict Neil will have more teeth missing, not after game 7 but game 1 next year.