The National Hockey League rule book contains 60 pages of small type, 34 of them devoted to definition and punishment of ways not to play the game.
Only the referees and Washington general manager Max McNab know and understand every detail of all those infractions, and there's no need for a fan to memorize the italic clarifications. There are, however, some basic points that will save a lot of vocal strain.
For one thing, if you feel the referee missed a blatant violation, don't scream at him until you see whether his arm is raised. Should a penalty be imposed on a player of the team not in possession of the puck, the referee points to the player, but does not blow his whistle until the other team loses possession.
The fouled team often lifts its goaltender in such situations, since play is halted before the opponent can shoot. If you were among the hundreds who leaped and cheered when the Capitals' Guy Charron drilled a puck into an empty Chicago net Wednesday night, now you know why Charron wasn't excited.
Of course, should a team misdirect the puck into its own unguarded net, as the unlamented Kansas City Scouts managed once, it is a goal.
There are five types of penalties, covering every situation from falling on the puck to attempted manslaughter. The most common are called minor penalties, are of two minutes duration and expire early if they produce a manpower disadvantage and couts managed once, it is a goal.
Major penalties last five minutes and the player stays in the box no matter how many goals are scored. Last Saturday, for example, Washington scored three times while Minnesota's Harvey Bennett served a major.
Majors are generally imposed for fighting or for using the blade of the stick to spear an opponent or the butt end of the stick to jab him. They also may be assessed when a penalty normally treated as minor results in an injury. Should each team receive a major at the same time, substitutes are permitted.
Misconduct penalties, usually for maligning the officials, do not leave a team shorthanded, since the offending player may be replaced in the lineup. Routine misconduct brings a 10-minute sentence: outlandish activity, including instigation of a fight or being the first to intervene in one, results in a game or gross misconduct, providing ejection from the contest.
Match penalties specify expulsion, but also create a shorthanded situation. Attempting to injure, kick or head-butt a player brings an additional five-minute assessment, while actually injuring an opponent means a 10-minute sentence.The Capitals survived such a circumstance unscored upon in an exhibition at Quebec, when Gordie Lane injured the Nordiques' Paulin Bordeleau.
The fifth penalty situation generates unparallelled excitement. It is the penalty shot, in which a player is permitted to skate in alone on the goalie from center ice. Unlike soccer, however, no rebound is allowed.
Penalty shots are awarded to a player, skating beyond the center red line, who is fouled from behind while no tender; when an illegal substitute interferes in a similar situation; when a defender deliberately displaces the goal cage during a breakaway and when a player, coach or trainer throws a stick at the puck while it is in his team's defending zone. In each case, the player in control of the puck must take the shot.
A goal, rather than a penalty shot, is awarded after a goalie has been removed if a member of his team not legally on the ice interferes with the movement of the puck or an opponent or if a player is fouled from behind or interfered with by a thrown object while no defender is between him and the goal. Cincinnati was given a goal under this section in Hampton, Va., last month when the Capitals' Bryan Watson allegedly hooked a Cincinnati forward from the bench.
Goaltenders may be penalized like anyone else, but they are not required to go to the penalty box. Another player may be designated to serve a goalie's minor, major or 10-minute misconduct penalty, although a goalie must leave if he receives a game misconduct or match penalty.
There are numerous other ways to earn a two-minute rest and a coach's anger. Among them are unsportmanlike conduct, failing to proceed directly to the penalty box, too many men on the ice, playing with a broken stick, even cutting the palm out of a glove to easier hold a stick or opponent.
A player who closes his hand over the puck is subject to a minor penalty; however, he may legally bat or push the puck. Should a player deliberately direct the puck with his hand to a teammate, play is stopped and a faceoff held at the spot of the infraction. There isn't a rink in the world, even in knowledgeable Montreal, where fans don't scream for a penalty when a player shoves the puck along the ice with his hand. But, in ignoring them, the referee is correct, as usual.