TORONTO – It goes both ways, but it never goes away.
Goaltender interference — that unidentifiable, infuriating bang-bang play that wipes away seemingly good goals from a sport that needs them and confuses everyone involved — reared its ugly, angry head again Saturday night.
Unless some clarity and consensus is found quick, we’re bound to ratchet up the public criticism and nauseating slow-motion analysis come playoff time.
NHL, you have a month.
“It’s a huge issue in the league. It’s been discussed all year long. It seems every week this issue gets raised,” said Pittsburgh Penguins coach Mike Sullivan, after a controversial non-goal proved the difference in his club’s 5-2 loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs.
“It’s a challenge the league has to try and iron out. I know it’s being discussed, and everybody’s gotta try to do their best to clarify the language and the criteria or whatever it might be. Because, right now, I don’t think anyone really knows what is goalie interference and what isn’t.”
Sullivan’s words, delivered calmly but purposefully, echo those of counterpart Mike Babcock, who sounded off on the topic Monday after Toronto goalie Frederik Andersen had his leg swept during a good goal in Buffalo.
“The greatest thing about all of this stuff is I’ve had enough of my own issues with this stuff, and it does you no good to talk about it,” said Babcock, before walking out of Air Canada Centre with a 10th consecutive home win, a new Maple Leafs franchise record.
The questionable incident on this night occurred with the Penguins dominating but the Maple Leafs leading 3-0 with two minutes remaining in the second period.
A net-charging Brian Dumoulin appeared to have busted Andersen’s shutout bid, tucking the puck around the goalie’s pad and across the line while getting pushed by defender Ron Hainsey.
Not only was Dumoulin’s seemingly good goal ignored, the Penguins defenceman was assessed a goaltender interference penalty for clipping Andersen on his cross-crease drive. Because a penalty was whistled, Sullivan was not permitted to challenge a critical play surely worth a second look.
“The tough thing about that one is we end up getting a penalty, so we can’t even challenge it. Ideally we would’ve been able to challenge it, and maybe it does the other way,” said Sidney Crosby, who notably defended the officials’ treatment of this touchy subject during all-star weekend.
“It’s really hard for officials to make the call on something that quick. [Goalies] are well aware now that if there’s contact, they’re going to make sure they sell it too.”
In real time, Sullivan labelled the ruling “a joke.” Dumoulin let loose a stream of unprintable things as he headed to the penalty box and declined, through team public relations, to speak to reporters post-game.
“He went through the crease, right?” Andersen said. “That’s what I saw. There’s a lot of space outside the crease. You could have stayed outside and maybe scored. But that’s the rule.”
Also: What’s the difference between casual goalie interference that wipes a goal and goalie interference that’s worthy of a penalty?
Exacerbating matters, Mitch Marner scored on the ensuing power-play, his sneaky wrister weaseling through traffic and between Jarry’s legs, thus giving the Leafs a 4-0 lead.
“If there was any contact at all, it was because he got pushed, but there was very little,” Sullivan said. “Even if they call a penalty on the play, it should be challengeable. That I do think. It’s just common sense. It gives the referee a second look at it because it happens fast.
“It’s a pivotal point in the game. It’s a two-goal swing. Based on everything I watched and saw, it looked to me like a good goal.”
Waiting in Pittsburgh to play the Penguins Sunday, Dallas Stars captain Jamie Benn questioned referee Dan O’Halloran’s call on Twitter. Ditto Jake Guentzel’s father, Mike, a coach at the University of Minnesota.
2 mins for scoring. Huh?
— Jamie Benn (@jamiebenn14) March 11, 2018
As the league attempts to put a lid on public complaints about the unpredictability of the call, we have players chirping on social media and coaches calling for change in prime time.
Not a good look. It’s possible the upcoming GM meetings later this month can deliver some precision that league memos haven’t managed to.
A Crosby backhander and nice Patric Hornqvist tip closed the gap to 4-2 late in the final period, before a Patrick Marleau empty-netter iced it for a Leafs team that got outshot 40-26 and was seen escaping the arena in balaclavas.
Had the controversial Dumoulin play gone the other way — who knows? — it could’ve been a 3-3 barnburner off to overtime featuring two of the most talent-blessed offences in hockey.
Instead, we’re discussing the same recurring problem.
“We probably didn’t deserve to win tonight anyway,” Crosby said.
We wonder if he’ll be so gentlemanly if this happens in June.