The Rangers are in Anaheim tonight, but with that game well over 12 hours away, let’s look at something else that affects the National Hockey League as a whole.
“When any player, while in his defending zone, shoots or bats (using his hand or his stick) the puck directly (non-deflected) out of the playing surface, except where there is no glass, a penalty shall be assessed for delaying the game. When the puck is shot into the players’ bench, the penalty will not apply. When the puck is shot over the glass ‘behind’ the players’ bench, the penalty will be assessed.”
The above quote is Rule 63.2 of the NHL Official Rulebook. This was one of the changes to the rules after the lockout. Before the change, any time someone cleared the puck over the glass in the defensive zone it simply led to a faceoff, as if the puck was covered up by the goaltender. Only if the referee truly felt that the player went out of his way to put the puck out of play was a penalty assessed.
The fact that the NHL has made this a penalty is completely ridiculous. I was thinking back to the February 27th game against Tampa Bay, where Vincent Lecavalier scored the game winning goal for Tampa on a 5-on-3 powerplay that they were given after Brian Boyle attempted to clear the puck but put it over the glass. It’s anticlimactic that a game like that, which was competitive and intense, was decided largely because of such an unnecessary rule. Penalties should be reserved for plays that legitimately prevent the other team from advancing on the ice, such as a hook or a trip, or for physical actions that are excessive, such as elbowing or boarding. Anyone who has played hockey knows how difficult clearing the puck out of the defensive zone is. When a defending player finally gets the puck in his own zone, the other team will converge on him within seconds. There is little time to think with the puck, so the instinct is to just try to bank it off the glass and get it out of the zone. It’s understandable that sometimes this will result in the puck ending up in the crowd.
Now, aside from the fact that Gary Bettman is obsessed with creating as many power play opportunities as possible, there is actually some logic behind the penalty. You don’t want players enduring a long shift simply launching the puck into the crowd in order to get a stoppage in play, but the answer to this is mind-numbingly obvious. Another post-lockout rule change is that a team that ices the puck has to keep those same players on the ice, because previously players would ice the puck in order to get a whistle and get off the ice. Why not have the same rule for pucks that are shot into the crowd in the defensive zone? It solves the issue of players clearing the puck off the ice, but at the same time doesn’t radically alter the game like a penalty does. The reality is that icings and pucks over the glass are the results of the same situation; a team trying to get the puck out of their own zone. Why wouldn’t you have two different punishments for what are essentially similar plays? I know that the NHL is trying to push for a broader audience, and that they think more power plays means more offense, but the idea that such a harmless play can completely alter a game, as it did in the Rangers vs. Lightning game, is something that fans should not be okay with.