The Dallas Stars have been involved in a fair number of interesting goalie interference calls over the year, from the waive off against the Pittsburgh Penguins this season to last season's crowding call against the Vancouver Canucks and a game with multiple incidents against the Blue Jackets back in 2011.
Another one popped up Thursday night as the Predators thought they had once again taken a lead late in the third period. This time, though, the goal was waived off to much consternation from the Preds bench. Was it the right call? Once again when it comes to goalie interference, it looks like the officials made a very defensible, if not popular in Nashville, decision.
With less than four minutes left in the game, the Stars were stuck in their zone with the Predators on the cycle. While trying to clear out the front of the net, Stars defenseman Jason Demers checked Preds forward Craig Smith into goalie Kari Lehtonen, sending both tumbling out of the crease. Smith and Lehtonen remained tangled for a few moments before Smith extracted himself, and by the time Lehtonen was able to get back to the crease, Filip Forsberg had put the puck in the net.
It originally appeared to be a goal, but the Stars protested immediately. After a long conference with all four officials, the goal was eventually waived off because of non-penalty goalie interference.
As always when this particular call rears its head, there is a lot to talk about with regards to did the officials get the call right. Video replay wouldn't have been much help because, as always, goalie interference is a highly subjective rule.
So let's get the verbatim rules out of the way, from both rule 69 and my favorite Table 18. All bolding is mine.
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.
Rule 69.1 cont'd:
If an attacking player has been pushed, shoved, or fouled by a defending player so as to cause him to come into contact with the goalkeeper, such contact will not be deemed contact initiated by the attacking player for purposes of this rule, provided the attacking player has made a reasonable effort to avoid such contact.
A PLAYER PUSHES, SHOVES, OR FOULS ANOTHER PLAYER INTO THE GOALKEEPER, WHO IS IN OR OUT OF THE CREASE
C. The contact by the attacking player with the goalkeeper is other than incidental and the attacking player, in the judgment of the Referee, did not make a reasonable effort to avoid such contact at the time a goal is scored.
A Minor and/or Major penalty may be called at the discretion of the Referee plus assessment of whatever other penalties may be appropriate up to and including Supplementary Discipline and the goal is disallowed.
There are several things at play here - the initial contact after the shove from Demers, the continued contact between the two after Demers is out of the picture and path the player took back to the top of the crease.
(And for the record - yes, Demers definitely cross-checked and interfered with Smith. However, that type of contact is generally let go in the crease area and was for the entire game, so a no-call there is proper.)
The first, had it been the only part of the incident that took place, would likely not have been goalie interference. Demers clearly pushes Smith into Lehtonen and knocks both out of the crease. Still, if the official felt that Smith could have stayed on his feet despite the shove, or felt he shouldn't have fallen as hard as he did into Lehtonen, it would introduce at least some benefit of the doubt.
But critically, that's not where the play ends. The forward remains tangled with Lehtonen for the next couple seconds and isn't making any immediate moves away from the contact even after he gets up.
This is where he gets into the most trouble. When you have been pushed into the goalie, you are basically required to sell out to avoid/minimize the contact. Goalies are so limited in their movement ability that referees have been instructed to give them the benefit of the doubt in almost every scenario. To avoid the GI call, he would have had to have bailed out backwards or to the side immediately, even if that meant he was slower in recovering to the play, minimizing all possible contact with Lehtonen.
That didn't happen. Smith remained tangled up with him for a few seconds and then took a path that cut Lehtonen off from direct access to his crease. This probably wouldn't have been enough for goalie interference in and of itself, but it may have played a part in the judgement of the officials given how slow they were separating.
What this call hinges on is the very subjective definition of "reasonable effort." What is a reasonable effort to require Smith to make after he is shoved by Demers? There's no concrete answer to that anywhere in the rulebook, which is why reviewing plays like this wouldn't help matters at all.
But the way it was called Thursday night in Nashville is consistent with how the rule is generally applied. Even with significant contact from a defender, an attacking player is expected to do everything in his power to minimize the contact he has with the goalie.
Smith didn't do that, and that's why the Predators had to wait until overtime to pick up their second point.