In Tuesday night’s game against the Carolina Hurricanes, Caps fans were bringing down the house when team captain Alex Ovechkin punched the game winning goal into the net for the win that clinched their berth in the 2016 Stanley Cup playoffs. Moments later the Hurricanes filed a Coach’s Challenge to review the play – in question, was Evengy Kuznetsov, who was bringing the puck across the blue line for the Capitals, offsides, or not?
The NHL Hockey Operations team and linesman reviewed the play while the crowd and the players hung in limbo. Tension was high as all eyes were fixated on the jumbo Tron replaying the video that to some seemed inconclusive. At home, viewers tuned into Comcast Sports Network with Joe Beninati and Craig Laughlin or John Walton on Caps radio were disheartened as Capitals-friendly, trusted announcers confidently pronounced Kuzy “offsides” – a call that would rescind the goal placing the newly pronounced playoff berth at risk.
After a seeming eternity, the linesman finally took center ice to make his pronouncement and Caps fans held their breath. The ruling, “the Capitals entered the attacking zone legally prior to the goal” – the Coach’s Challenge was overturned and Ovechkin’s goal was upheld. Verizon erupted in cheers as 18,000 ecstatic Caps fans filed into the night but the controversy of the play and the call linger – the subject of controversy and fueling continuing sports talk call in show banter.
Was this the right call? Well, NHL Rule 83.1 states .”…a player actually controlling the puck who shall cross the line ahead of the puck shall not be considered “off-side,” provided the player had possession and control of the puck (uncontested) prior to his skates crossing the blue line.”
Therefore, the primary question is about control. Did Kuzy have control of the puck when he crossed the blue line? The picture below captures the moment when Kuznetsov’s skates crossed the blue line, to some viewers, it appeared he lost control of the puck albeit briefly but enough to warrant an offsides call that would negate the goal.
Other viewers, NoVa Caps contributor Scott Zweibel included, saw the play differently. These viewers feel that because Kuzy’s puck possession was uncontested (he wasn’t fighting a defender off), the puck was in reach of his stick and both Kuzy and the puck were moving forward in the same direction that Kuzy was in control of the puck. In this scenario, it means that even though Kuzy’s skates crossed the blue line before the puck that he was not offsides and the goal stands.
Other viewers recognize puck position as subjective in some instances and a gray area in the rulebook. According to the NHL rules, a linesman determines puck possession by intent – a judgement call by the linesman. These views feel that Kuzy appears to have lost “possession” (control) of the puck right at the blue line while he was looking to make a pass ) but, like I said, “possession” is really a judgement call in that instant. It may be that the NHL review team and the linesman assumed Kuzy had puck possession by intent and therefore, they upheld the goal.
The video, from NHL.com’s Situation Room shows the play in its entirety. Unfortunately, camera angles are limited and this type of play / call is proof positive of the value that the blue line cameras will provide during the 2016 playoffs.
Caps fans, did the linesman and the NHL Operations team make the right ruling to overturn the Hurricane’s Coach’s Challenge and uphold Ovechkin’s 42nd goal or was Kuzy truly offsides? You make the call.
By Stephanie Judge