Canadiens players make suggestions on coach’s challenge

Damien Cox and Shawn McKenzie report from Boca Raton, Florida where general managers are thrilled at the success of the coach’s challenges and whether there will be new innovations coming to the blue line.

MONTREAL — If you asked Montreal Canadiens goaltender Mike Condon and forward Brendan Gallagher to rule on 10 incidents that led to goals being counted or overturned as the result of a coach’s challenge this season, you’d get more than just a difference of opinion.

“It would probably come to fisticuffs before the night was over,” said Condon after practice on Monday.

The coach’s challenge pertaining to goaltender interference is a topic of discussion at this week’s general manager meeting in Boca Raton, Fla. The league sent out data last week that showed just over 20 per cent of challenges on goaltender interference have led to calls being overturned this season.

Coaches, who are sacrificing timeouts on blown challenges, are frustrated.

“The standard at the beginning of the season was different than it currently is,” said Canadiens coach Michel Therrien in French. “We’ll let the GMs discuss it. I think everyone is getting a lot more used to it, figuring out when to challenge a ref.

"I think it was an adjustment for everyone, not only the coaches but for the referees.”

Once a challenge is made, referees gather at centre ice to review plays on a tablet before deciding whether or not to overturn their own calls.

Having the NHL representatives in the war room in Toronto handle these decisions was discussed before the rule was implemented at the beginning of the season. That concept will be revisited by the GMs this week.

Condon has a different idea.

“Have a former forward and a former goaltender review the decisions together, so you can have balance,” he said. “Obviously, I’m biased. I’ve watched a few clips this year where I’ve thought, ‘that’s absolutely goalie interference,’ and they called it a goal. It’s not as cut and dry as people think it is.”

The NHL rulebook states that: “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.”

There's another 500 words dedicated in the rulebook to the rationale of allowing interference if an attacking player is pushed into the goaltender by a defending player. It also states that a defending player being pushed in by an attacking player will result in a disallowed goal.

But judgment is based on the referee’s interpretation of the events in real time.

“I think there’s maybe 10-15 per cent that you have no idea (if a goal should count or not),” said Canadiens captain Max Pacioretty. “It’s frustrating for me because I’ve had a couple of goals called back, especially playing with (Brendan Gallagher). After you score with (Gallagher) on the ice you gotta make sure, you have to go up and ask him, ‘Did you hit the goalie there?’ Most the time he says, ‘no,’ but he probably did.”

Gallagher has been involved in more than one coach’s challenge this season — some more controversial than others.

In a November game against the Boston Bruins, a Canadiens goal was called back despite Gallagher clearly being pushed into goaltender Jonas Gustavsson by defenceman Zdeno Chara.

When Gallagher was asked after the game how he was supposed to get the six-foot-nine Chara off his back on the play, he said, "That’s something I’ll have to add to my summer training program."

Some innocuous contact with the goaltender has led to goals being overturned this season. Take this incident from a game between the San Jose Sharks and Washington Capitals on Oct. 13 for example.

Some contact has also been overlooked.

“When you play the position, even the slightest thing can mess you up,” said Condon. “A stick on the back of your skate or a stick in the face or a bump here or there can get you completely off balance, and it’s a game of inches, it’s a game of milliseconds. (Nick) Ritchie punched me in the face in Anaheim and there was no call.”