NHL Goaltenders: The Untouchables?

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NHL Goaltenders: The Untouchables?
(Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images)

Last night, the Carolina Hurricanes beat the New Jersey Devils 4-3. Jussi Jokinen deflected a shot from Dennis Seidenberg and past New Jersey goalie Martin Brodeur with a mere 0.2 seconds left. Just seconds before, Jokinen bumped into Brodeur, who was outside of the crease. Brodeur protested to the referee's that he'd been interfered with and the goal should've been disallowed.

They disagreed.

The play calls into question the limits on goalie—opponent contact. Clearly, the rules state that a goaltender must not be interfered with in his domain. The blue wedge in front of the net, known as the crease, is a goaltender's castle and he is entitled to defend it against all those who break its walls.

There's also a trapezoid behind the net where goaltenders often go to take control of errant pucks volleyed in by opposing teams. Contact with a goalie in either of these locations that results in his inability to defend the net will get you an interference penalty.

But what about everywhere else?

According to Brodeur, the entire ice surface is his domain.

If you check out the instant replay, Jokinen had his back to Brodeur the whole time he skated in front of the net, from Brodeur's right to his left. Yes, Jokinen knew where the net was, and he was clearly several feet away from the crease.

What he didn't know was that Brodeur crept up behind him to establish position.

The two collided. Bumped. But each had time to get into position for Seidenberg's shot.

Jokinen isn't Sean Avery. Brodeur knows the latter quite well.

Last year, Avery faced Brodeur and used his body and stick to block him from seeing what his fellow Rangers were doing on the ice. The NHL had to institute a special rule to prevent Avery, or any future pests, from this unsportsmanlike behavior.

Jokinen was just skating into position for Seidenberg's shot while maintaining a healthy distance from the crease. Hardly a reason for an interference call.

If a goalie can not be touched anywhere on the ice, then there are no limits to what they can do.

Why not just skate up ice to act as an extra "untouchable" attacker?

Lost in the clamor over this was an incident that happened earlier in the evening in Philadelphia. Pittsburgh goalie, Marc-Andre Fleury, left the crease to chase a puck that was in the face-off circle to his left. Flyers' captain Mike Richards raced down the ice to beat him.

Fleury won, but not before Richards' skate clipped Fleury's, causing him to lose his balance as he scrambled back to the net and fall on the ice.

Richards was called for tripping.

There was no intent to interfere with Fleury on Richards' part. He was going for the puck and as he swerved to chase it down his skate caught Fleury's. Although the Flyers lost the game, no goal was scored on the ensuing power-play.

Did the rules work?

While goaltenders have a right to defend the crease there has to be a limit on their "untouchable" status outside of it. They're not holy and they're certainly not above nasty behavior.

Many a hockey fan has watched goalies defend the crease from forwards who wander too close with a series of cross checks, trips and stick slashings. They are also certainly not above embellishment when it comes to contact.

While I firmly believe that the crease must be respected, goaltenders must realize that not only do they protect it, it protects them.

When they leave it, not only is the net open, but they are as well.

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