Regner: Crease rule too subjective

Jonas Gustavsson makes the initial save after being screened by Rick Nash, but the rebound went right to Derick Brassard for the Rangers' game-winning goal.

Brad Penner

Not since the days of Tomas Holmstrom have the Red Wings and their fans been so confused about the NHL’s in-the-crease/goalie-interference rule.

Three times in just 15 games during this young season, the Wings have come out on the wrong end of the on-ice officials’ interpretation of the rule.

Oct. 21 at Montreal: Pavel Datsyuk made his season debut and scored a highlight reel goal on a nifty spin-o-rama backhander that gave the Wings a 2-0 lead midway through the third period. But the goal was waved off because the referee ruled that Wings forward Justin Abdelkader came into contact with Canadiens goalie Carey Price, who appeared to initiate the contact. Montreal would eventually tie the game up and win it in overtime, 2-1.

Nov. 2 at Buffalo: With 2:32 left in overtime, Wings captain Henrik Zetterberg scored the apparent game-winning goal. But the referee disallowed it, ruling that Wings forward Johan Franzen interfered with Buffalo goalie Michal Neuvirth by establishing himself in the blue paint of the goal crease. Buffalo went on to win the game in a shootout, 3-2.

Nov. 5 at New York Rangers: With the Rangers on a power play in overtime, Rick Nash planted himself in front of Wings goalie Jonas Gustavsson to screen him from a shot from the point. Gustavsson made the save, however, in the ensuing scramble, the rebound went right to forward Derick Brassard, who buried the puck into the net for a 4-3 Rangers victory. What upset the Wings on this play was, it appeared that Nash did the same thing that Franzen did in Buffalo — was slightly in the blue paint, thus interfering with the goalie. To make matters worse for the Wings, Gustavsson separated his shoulder on the play and is out of action for two months.

Whenever you talk to a player, a coach or general manager about officiating, they all same the same thing — consistency is what they desire from the officials.

As long as they know how the rule will be called, teams will adjust their game accordingly. And that’s the problem with the in the crease/goalie-interference rule — it’s too subjective.

So what exactly is the rule?

Contrary to popular belief, it’s not about being in the blue paint; it’s about being in the crease when the goalie wants that space to play his position. If he can’t get to where he wants to be, it’s interference.

These decisions on these goals, whether they call them good or bad, they are critical decisions.

Ken Holland

"It’s a difficult rule to have in black and white; it’s an on-ice official call," Wings GM Ken Holland said. "We have toyed with the idea of giving it a video review in Toronto, but any time you go to a video review, the perception is from the fan base and the people in the industry is that you’re going to get it right … Well, if it’s not black and white, how do you know what’s right or what’s wrong?"

Wings coach Mike Babcock believes that if there’s any question about the validity of a goal, then going to Toronto for a video replay is the best solution.

"I mean how long would it take for a video replay on all goals? Not long," Babcock told reporters last week. "I think the game is very hard. I think sometimes when we speak as coaches, it comes across as criticism to officials. That’s totally wrong. We don’t know ourselves.

"Wouldn’t they (officials) like to be right all the time? Isn’t that a critical point of the game? I think the Nash goal in New York should stand. And I think the one in Buffalo should stand.

"It doesn’t matter what I think. It just matters, let’s do it correct all the time."

Finding the correct procedure isn’t going to be easy, according to Holland, because the game has changed.

Goalies are much larger, quicker and mobile than they were even 10 years ago, which has altered how the game is played in front of the net.

"In today’s hockey, it’s a necessary tactic to have a physical presence in front of the net," Holland said. "If you’re six to eight feet in front of that crease, the goalie is going to be able to lean his head and look around you.

"You need to get right in front of him. They can’t stop what they can’t see, and if they do make a save, you need somebody there to whack in the rebound or tip and change the direction of the puck."

Despite the incident in Montreal, Abdelkader will continue to be aggressive by going hard to net, but he’ll try to be more aware of his surroundings — although he admits that will be difficult.

"I am not going to change," he said. "I’m still going to be in that area. I have to be cautious of the crease.

"It’s such a quicker action, a bang-bang play, it’s tough to look down right at that second and say, ‘Oh, my foot’s in the crease, I have to take it out.’ You just have to be aware of where you’re at."

Since the interpretation of the rule varies from on-ice official to on-ice official, the NHL might just do nothing and let the status quo of inconsistency remain.

Holland told me that there isn’t enough support from the league or the general managers for putting Toronto in charge of making the call via video replay.

"It’s hard to score a goal; it’s a hard league; it’s a close league; it’s a parity league," Holland said. "These decisions on these goals, whether they call them good or bad, they are critical decisions in the overall scheme to the success of a hockey club over 82 games.

"I think everybody sort of understands what the rule is. We know what we’ve got. If we do something, you’re not sure what you have. You could be moving into a bigger issue that you’re not aware of.

"We’re moving slowly on it. It’s a topic of conversation, but for now, we have what we have."