Thursday, November 24, 2022

Did the Devils get screwed? Explaining the key calls that gave the Leafs the win

We saw one of the wilder games of the year on Wednesday night, with the Maple Leafs going into New Jersey and ending the Devils' 13-game winning streak.

Or did they? The standings will say they did, but that doesn’t mean Devils fans have to accept it. While the final score will go into the books as 2-1 for Toronto, the Devils actually put the puck past Matt Murray four times on the night. The first three didn’t count, thanks to a pair of goaltender interference calls followed by a distinctive kicking motion ruling. By the time that last goal was wiped off, furious Devils fans in attendance were pelting the ice with beer and debris, while others were venting online about the obvious conspiracy.

Do they have a case? As the self-appointed rulebook guy around these parts, I’m here to help. Let’s do this Q&A style.

Should the first Devils goal have counted?

The first no-goal came early in the first, with a Dougie Hamilton point shot beating Murray. The goal was immediately waved off, and replays showed that Nathan Bastian was in the crease. Lindy Ruff and the Devils challenged, but the call on the ice was confirmed.

It’s the right call, as you already know if you read my detailed guide to understanding goalie interference. As that post explained, the key to any goalie interference ruling is usually the crease – if the attacking player is in there, it’s probably going to be no goal. Bastian clearly is, and he’s in Murray’s way as the Leafs’ goalie tries to slide his pad across to play the shot.

But he barely touched him!

True, but that doesn’t matter. There’s contact, and it’s enough that it “impairs the goalkeeper’s ability to move freely within his crease or defend his goal”. According to the rulebook, that makes this an easy call. In fact, it doesn’t even matter if there’s any contact at all. If a player is in the crease and in the goalie’s way, it’s supposed to be no goal. And while there’s enough of a gray area to occasionally make this a judgment call, they almost always give the goalie the benefit of the doubt.

As I’ve said more than a few times, even if you understand the rule you’ll still run into cases where a call is debatable. That's part of the reason I think we should get rid of these reviews altogether. But this wasn’t one of those times. The refs got it right, both initially and on further review.

So Lindy Ruff was wrong to challenge it?

Well… maybe. That’s a trickier question, because a goal in the low-scoring NHL is a big deal. You don’t have to be 50/50 to make a challenge worth it, because the penalty for failure is only a two-minute minor. If you think it's 60/40 or even 70/30 that you're going to lose, it’s probably still worth it to roll the dice.

But in this case, I think it was close to 90/10, or maybe just 100/0. Remember, the call on the ice was no goal, so in theory a close call was going to against the Devils. And again, this one wasn’t all that close. I’m betting Ruff wishes he had this one back.

OK, but what about the second goal? If barely touching a goalie means a goal can’t count, can we assume that wiping him out is just as clear?

Weirdly, no. I actually thought the Devils had a case here.

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