Penalty shots are often some of the most exciting moments at a hockey game. While the shootout may have made the one-on-one scoring plays a bit more common-place, fans are still collectively holding their breath when a penalty shot is called.
Penalty shots appear to be on the rise. Through 210 games of the 2023-24 NHL season, 15 penalty shots were awarded. That’s up nearly 80%, from 52 for the entire 2022-23 season, 34 for all of 2021-22, and 27 the year prior.
How Are Penalty Shots Awarded?
Infractions on a Breakaway
The most commonly-awarded reason for a penalty shot is when a player is fouled from behind on a breakaway. From Rule 57.3:
When a player, in the neutral or attacking zone, in control of the puck (or who could have obtained possession and control of the puck) and having no other opponent to pass than the goalkeeper, is tripped or otherwise fouled from behind, thus preventing a reasonable scoring opportunity, a penalty shot shall be awarded to the non-offending team. Nevertheless, the Referee shall not stop play until the attacking team has lost possession of the puck to the defending team.
The intention of this rule is to restore a reasonable scoring opportunity which has been lost. If, however, the player fouled is able to recover and obtain a reasonable scoring opportunity (or a teammate is able to gain a reasonable scoring opportunity), no penalty shot should be awarded but the appropriate penalty should be signaled and assessed if a goal is not scored on the play.
Note that getting a shot on goal does not automatically wipe out the possibility of a penalty shot. It’s up to the officials to determine if the shot on goal was still a ‘reasonable’ scoring chance.
The NHL has very specific criteria under which the refs can award a penalty shot.
In order for a penalty shot to be awarded for a player being fouled from behind, the following four (4) criteria must have been met:
(i) The infraction must have taken place in the neutral 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, the player clearly would have obtained possession and control of the puck) must have been denied a reasonable chance to score. The fact that the player got a shot off does not automatically eliminate this play from the penalty shot consideration criteria. If the infraction was from behind and the player was denied a “more” reasonable scoring opportunity due to the infraction, then the penalty shot should still be awarded.
(iv) The player in possession and control (or, in the judgment of the Referee, the player clearly would have obtained possession and control) must have had no opposing player between himself and the goalkeeper.
Here’s a breakdown from the league’s Video Rulebook:
Penalty shots can also be awarded for a number of other infractions:
- Throwing Equipment – If a member of the defending team throws or shoots any object within his defensive zone, including a stick, at the puck or puck carrier (Rule 53.7)
- Interference – If a member of the defending team throws or shoots any object at a player on a breakaway in the neutral or attacking zone (Rule 56.6)
- Leaving the Bench or Deliberate Illegal Substitution – If a player on a breakaway is interfered with by a player who has illegally entered the game (Rule 68.3, Rule 70.7)
- Intentionally dislodging the net in the final two minutes – Typically, this results in a minor penalty for delay of game. It’s a rare case where the NHL requires a penalty shot if the two-minute minor cannot be served in its entirety: If by reason of insufficient time in the regular playing time or by reason of penalties already imposed, the minor penalty assessed to a player for deliberately displacing his own goal post cannot be served in its entirety within the regular playing time of the game or at any time in overtime, a penalty shot shall be awarded against the offending team. (Rule 63.6)
- Skater covering the puck in the goal crease – Players other than the goaltender are not permitted to fall on the puck or cover it within the goal crease (Rule 63)
Now that we’ve cleared up the scenarios in which a penalty shot may be awarded, here’s the procedure for taking the shot.
Penalty Shot Procedure
It seems simple enough, right? Officials puck the puck at center, blow the whistle, skater moves in to try to score. That’s the general idea, but there are some rules that need to be enforced along the way.
The puck must be kept in motion towards the opponent’s goal line and once it is shot, the play shall be considered complete. No goal can be scored on a rebound of any kind (an exception being the puck off the goal post or crossbar, then the goalkeeper and then directly into the goal), and any time the puck crosses the goal line or comes to a complete stop, the shot shall be considered complete.
The goalkeeper must remain in his crease until the player taking a penalty shot has touched the puck
There are also specific moves addressed by the NHL on penalty shots:
The lacrosse-like move whereby the puck is picked up on the blade of the stick and “whipped” into the net shall be permitted provided the puck is not raised above the height of the shoulders at any time and when released, is not carried higher than the crossbar.
The spin-o-rama type move where the player completes a 360° turn as he approaches the goal, shall not be permitted. Should a player perform such a move during the shot, the shot shall be stopped by the Referee and no goal will be the result.
This move was effective, but somewhat controversial as to whether the puck continued moving forward throughout the entire play, prompting the NHL to ban the spin-o-rama for penalty shots and shootouts.
Violations During the Penalty Shot
There are certain instances where the officials may require the penalty shot to be re-taken. Typically, this is when the goaltender runs afoul of the rules.
The goalkeeper may attempt to stop the shot in any manner except by throwing his stick or any object, or by deliberately dislodging the goal, in which case a goal shall be awarded.
So what is it that would get a goalie in trouble?
- Leaving the crease before the player touches the puck
- Committing an infraction worthy of a minor penalty
- Dislodging the net unintentionally
Penalty Shot Outcomes
If the shot is successful, the goal is posted on the scoreboard and the teams face off at center ice.
An unsuccessful shot results in a faceoff in the attacking zone where the shot was attempted.
Take a look at all the penalty shot attempts from the 2022-23 NHL season: