BUFFALO, N.Y. – Mike Babcock is calling on the NHL to clear up the uncertainty around goaltender interference reviews before it costs someone a playoff game.
Referees Marc Joanette and Kendrick Nicholson looked at replays when Toronto challenged, but decided not to overturn the original call. Babcock believes their explanation contradicted language in a memo distributed by the league coming out of the all-star break.
“Well what I don’t like is what the report that came out from the league is different than what [the referees] told me,” said Babcock. “They told me he was interfered with outside the paint, which is not true. That tonight is goalie interference any way you look at it. That tonight, the goal is off, and the coaches in the league? No one knows what’s going on.
“So we better get it solved. Just saying, just a statement them saying ‘OK we’re going to leave it the way it is’ – no chance. Let’s get it fixed.
“Let’s get it fixed before the playoffs so we all know the rules.”
Only an unusual measure would see that happen.
Even though the review process is due to be put under serious scrutiny two weeks from now at the GMs Meeting in Boca Raton, Fla., there are very few examples of the NHL enacting a rule change in-season.
The league has already attempted to calm the choppy waters around Rule 78.7 once this season – with senior vice-president and director of hockey operations Colin Campbell conducting an impromptu meeting in Tampa during all-star weekend and commissioner Gary Bettman urging referees to loosen their standard when making judgment calls using video review.
“Overall, the system works, but I think we’ve gotten to the point where everybody’s overthinking the review,” Bettman told reporters on Jan. 27. “The intention, particularly on goaltender interference, is: ‘Did you miss something?’ ‘Was there a glaring error?’ Not, ‘Can you search for something that might overturn the call?’ And I think the consensus of the meeting [was] … take a quick look, but don’t search it to death.
“The presumption should be the call on the ice was good unless you have a good reason to overturn it, and you shouldn’t have to search for a good reason.”
The Leafs have seen two Auston Matthews goals overturned on goaltender interference reviews this season, including one in a Jan. 22 game against Colorado that the NHL later told team officials should have counted.
On Monday night at KeyBank Center, it went the other way on them.
Larsson glided into the area at the top of the Toronto crease and appeared to hit Andersen’s left skate, knocking the Leafs goalie off-balance. He could only wave helplessly at the puck as it was shot by him.
“The rebound comes out and I’m pushing towards it, his foot is right there in the crease and causes me to kind of fall backwards and almost blow out my knee,” said Andersen, explaining how he saw the sequence unfold. “Yeah, I mean obviously that wasn’t the way I was going to reach back with my stick if I had my balance. It’s my point of view, but obviously they had a different one.”
He spoke matter-of-factly. The stakes were low on the call. Larsson’s goal gave the Buffalo Sabres a 5-2 lead with half a period to play in a game they won 5-3.
Sure, it sent the Leafs home with an 0-2-2 record from a frustrating road trip, but they aren’t in much of a fight standings-wise. They already know with reasonable certainty that they’ll face the Boston Bruins in Round 1 and, barring something unusual, they’ll likely open that series at TD Garden.
With a little more than a month to play in the regular season, Toronto is thinking big-picture.
Babcock knows that traffic around the net will only increase as the stakes go up and it’s important for him to get a read on how much contact with goaltenders, if any, is going to be allowed. That’s a line he’ll want to illustrate to his players and one he’ll need to understand for potential challenges in the biggest games of the year.
There certainly hasn’t been much consistency, league-wide, throughout the season. The Leafs are 68 games in and still trying to figure out how goaltender interference is being applied.
“I think, if anything, it’s more unclear,” said Andersen. “Hopefully it’s something that can be fixed in the next few weeks. The sooner the better.”