Two Stadium Series games, two penalty shots.
In Saturday night’s tilt between Anaheim and Los Angeles, Kings forward Anze Kopitar was hooked from behind. Brad Watson called for a penalty shot, but Kopitar failed to convert.
Kopitar with the first ever @NHL outdoor penalty shot in LA; save by the orange.
— #LAKings (@LAKings) January 26, 2014
Less than 24 hours later, the New York Rangers’ Derek Stepan found himself in a similar situation. Midway through the third period, with the Rangers already up 6-3 in their Stadium Series game against New Jersey at Yankee Stadium, the Minnesota native was hooked from behind by the Devils’ Travis Zajac.
Referee Wes McCauley raised his arm for the penalty then hesitated — more for dramatic effect than for any uncertainty on the call he was about to make — before pointing to center ice for the penalty shot.
Unlike Kopitar, Stepan scored.
Stepan said that the penalty shot he had today was the first of his life. Ever. #1for1
— NY Rangers Zone (@NYRangersZone) January 27, 2014
But was it the right call? Some disagreed.
Some even provided photographic proof.
Zajac got called for the penalty. But Stepan held his stick the whole time. pic.twitter.com/z4CCaTQAvm
— NJ Devils News (@njdevilsnews) January 26, 2014
They weren’t necessarily wrong. After the game, Stepan admitted to holding Zajac’s stick:
“I’m not going to argue with the refs when they give me a penalty shot. I might have gotten away with one there.” – Stepan, to NJ.com
Here’s Rule 24.8, straight from the NHL Rulebook:
There are four (4) specific conditions that must be met in order for the Referee to award a penalty shot for a player being fouled from behind. They are:
(i) The infraction must have taken place in the neutral zone or attacking zone, (i.e. over the puck carrier’s own blue line);
(ii) The infraction must have been committed from behind;
(iii) The player in possession and control (or, in the judgment of the Referee, clearly would have obtained possession and control of the puck) must have been denied a reasonable chance to score (the fact that he got a shot off does not automatically eliminate this play from the penalty shot consideration criteria. If the foul was from behind and he was denied a “more” reasonable scoring opportunity due to the foul, then the penalty shot should be awarded);
(iv) The player in possession and control (or, in the judgment of the Referee, clearly would have obtained possession and control of the puck) must have had no opposing player between himself and the goalkeeper.
Zajac’s stick was up around Stepan’s waist, a scoring chance was lost, and the call was made. Zajac’s hook met all of the criteria for a penalty shot. Referees have been calling the hook tightly all season, and were unlikely to let this one go. Since Stepan was a step ahead, a penalty shot could be awarded on the play.
You have to wonder, if the location of the referee contributed to the call. Referee Paul Devorski was behind and to the right, where Zajac’s body obscured the official’s ability to spot Stepan’s glove reaching back.
Had he seen the stick grab, the call may have been different, possibly matching minors for the hook and the hold. (Not that it would’ve necessarily factored in to the outcome, with the Devils down by three with less than ten minutes to play.
As a bonus, here’s a little behind-the-scenes Vine, courtesy the NHL, of Stepan’s penalty shot goal: