Montreal Canadiens defenseman Mike Matheson attempted a reverse hit during Thursday’s game against the Florida Panthers.
While he delivered the hit and protected the puck, the NHL’s Department of Player Safety felt the hit was over the line. They were right.
Matheson has been fined $5,000 by the NHL’s Department of Player Safety for interference after his illegal hit on Florida’s Eric Staal.
No call after this Mike Matheson reverse hit on Eric Staal (who had to leave the game).
Clean or dirty? 🤔 pic.twitter.com/PODTWduVPZ
— Tim and Friends (@timandfriends) January 20, 2023
Staal was pursuing Matheson in the Habs’ zone, as the puck slid along the boards toward the goal line. Matheson stopped his pursuit of the puck to deliver a body check to the trailing Staal.
Staal was injured on the hit and left the game. He was later reported to be going through concussion protocol.
No penalty was called on the play.
The play was clearly interference. From Rule 56:
The last player to touch the puck, other than the goalkeeper, shall be considered the player in possession. The player deemed in possession of the puck may be checked legally, provided the check is rendered immediately following his loss of possession.
A minor penalty for interference shall be imposed … on any player who deliberately checks an opponent, including the goalkeeper, who is not in possession of the puck
Staal, having not been in possession of the puck was not eligible to be checked on the play.
This is also not a situation of incidental body contact where two players are battling for the puck. When Matheson stopped and changed direction, he abandoned his pursuit of the puck to deliver what was an illegal body check.
Unfortunately for the Florida Panthers and head coach Paul Maurice, the officials didn’t call the infraction.
So what is a reverse hit?
There’s no formal definition of a reverse hit in the NHL rulebook. Based on the current rules about interference and legal body checks, we can derive what would be a legal ‘reverse hit’. Here’s our unofficial criteria, based on how the NHL officials have called similar plays:
- The defending player is attempting to deliver a body check on a player in possession of the puck
- The player in possession of the puck braces for impact and/or changes his body position to defend against the impending contact
- The defending player’s momentum in delivering the hit is what initiates the body contact
Simply put, someone tries to hit you, and you make sure they get the worst of it.
What Matheson did was more than just bracing or changing position, it was him delivering a body check on a player ineligible to be hit. It deserved a penalty. Based on the nature of the hit, Player Safety felt it also deserved a $5000 fine.
The Panthers went on to win the game 6-2. Referees were Ghislain Hebert (#22) and Jake Brenk (#26); linesmen were Matt MacPherson (#83) and Scott Cherrey (#50).