Few plays in a tense Stanley Cup playoff game are guaranteed to result in a penalty but one of the rare instances in which discretion of officials doesn’t play a role is a delay-of-game minor for firing the puck out of play in the defensive zone.
In addition to New York defenseman Ryan McDonagh sending the puck over the glass 7:09 into overtime for the power play that yielded Mike Green’s game-winning goal, the Capitals nearly had the same infraction cost them at the end of regulation and again early in overtime.
“They’re frustrating to take, but I think they’re a benefit to the game,” goaltender Braden Holtby said. “It’s such an easy play now. Guys are so skilled. If you get under pressure, you flip it over — it’s a good penalty. You don’t want to take them, obviously, in a key situation of the game. Both teams are playing under the same rules, so you just have to remember that.”
With 45.3 seconds remaining in regulation of the still-scoreless Game 2, Karl Alzner deflected the puck over the glass and into the seats at Verizon Center.
The NHL’s rule states that a delay-of-game penalty is warranted if a player “shoots or bats” the puck out of play. Given that Alzner deflected the puck out of play, rather than shot or knocked it out, the referees didn’t issue the minor penalty despite pleas from the Rangers.
Oddly enough, Alzner admitted after the game Saturday that he had wondered how officials would call such a play only the night before.
“It was weird. I was thinking about a play, if a guy passed it from side to side and I stuck my stick out and tipped it out of the zone, would they call a penalty on me?” Alzner said. “You never know. And then I started thinking, and this play actually game up. It was kind of a weird coincidence.”
Even though he avoided the penalty in Game 2, Alzner said he’s not a fan of the rule.
“I could do without it because I used to always puck over the glass. I think I’ve been called on that a few times in my career,” Alzner said. “You’ve just got to pay more attention, I guess.”
Then 1:51 into overtime, defenseman Steve Oleksy sent the puck into the crowd, this time incurring a penalty. Even though Washington thwarted the Rangers’ power play without allowing a shot on goal, it was tough for Oleksy to watch from the box with the game on the line.
“It’s a tough rule. It’s a tough rule when it’s not intentional, you know?” Oleksy said. “The puck comes to you on a bounce and you just want to make sure; you don’t want a guy to poke it away at your own blue line and it goes in. You just want to make a hard play, and unfortunately, it just sat flat on my stick and carried over.”
The rule, which was added after the 2004-05 lockout, was designed to prevent defensemen from interrupting an offensive possession by intentionally shooting the puck out of play. Most of the time, though, it’s not a deliberate move.
“It’s designed so that there’s no free plays anymore,” Coach Adam Oates said Sunday, citing Oleksy’s infraction. “He didn’t control the puck, he shot it in the stands. That’s a wasted possession. It wasn’t as threatening or he wasn’t necessarily tired [as McDonagh was when he committed his penalty], but it’s a mistake. They want to try and figure out every mistake that they can in the league.”
While some in the hockey community don’t like the penalty, which exists only in the NHL and the American Hockey League, Oates said he believes it’s a “good rule”. At the same time, Oates knows it’s an unfamiliar rule that players don’t grow up learning how to avoid.
“One of the things that’s hard is for most of the players. It’s new,” Oates said. “They’ve been playing their whole life one way and all of a sudden you’re throwing this situation in, that every once in a while it happens where a guy bats it out of the air. That’s the reaction the guy’s done his whole life. Now you’re asking him to change that. That makes it tough.”
Fortunately for the Capitals, the delay-of-game call that altered the course of Game 2 of this Eastern Conference quarterfinal series came off the stick of McDonagh. The Rangers’ defenseman had been on the ice for 3:04, with a brief break of a timeout and another faceoff, before he sent the puck into the crowd.