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If the NHL wants more goals, it needs to stop going out of its way to disallow them

The NHL is denying itself much-needed goals and players are frustrated by the lack of clarity surrounding goaltender interference calls. The coach's challenge is at fault.

Eric Bolte-USA TODAY Sports

There has been a lot of confusion surrounding the NHL's definition of goaltender interference, as coach's challenges have caused the referees to review those plays down to the pixel. Goals are being regularly called back for the slightest hint of contact with the goaltender prior to the puck crossing the line.

Nobody knows this more than Brendan Gallagher.

The diminutive forward was on the wrong end of a call again Saturday night against the Boston Bruins, when his contact with goaltender Jonas Gustavsson — himself 6'4' — and Zdeno Chara — 6'9'' — was deemed so impactful that it prevented Gustavsson from attempting to stop the puck.

Never mind that Gallagher was sandwiched between two players who towered over his generously listed height of 5'9". Forget the fact that, while Gallagher had brought himself into the crease, he was prevented from leaving it by the mammoth Bruins defenseman. Gallagher's reputation certainly preceded him here, but there's reason to suspect that any player would have garnered the same call based on precedent set so far this season.

The letter of the law is clear here: when the goalie is prevented from making an attempt at a save by a player intentionally or incidentally impeding his progress, the goal should be called back. There are a few reasons this is a cause for concern; not only to the Brendan Gallaghers of the world, but to hockey fans in general.

Mike Babcock has gone on record this week with his belief that the size of the nets should be increased to provide further goal-scoring. Through a fifth of the season, the NHL has been dominated by narratives that showcase the struggle to score, with some of its most recognizable stars seeing dreadful slumps to start the campaign. When Sidney Crosby, John Tavares, Ryan Getzlaf, and Corey Perry aren't able to fill the net, the issue is not likely with the players. It's with the game.

Much has been made of the fact that last year was the first since 1968 that the top scorer in the league failed to hit the 90-point mark. Recent years have seen the removal of the red line and (for a short while at least) a tougher stance on penalties that would impede skill plays. The short-term results were promising, but they've failed to impress themselves over the decade since the season-erasing lockout.

The coach's challenge as it pertains to goaltender interference should be looked at as a mitigating factor in the goal-scoring drop. Interference is being called for plays as innocent as this one from Washington, and players are understandably confused and frustrated about how contact can be completely ruled out of the game in its most crucially protected area.

There are few plays in hockey as enthralling as the goal-mouth scramble, and this was demonstrated by Plekanec's would-have-been goal on Saturday night. The puck was bouncing around the crease, Bruins players were littered all over the goalmouth, and the Habs were frantically chopping at the puck to tie the game. The Bell Centre was electrified when the red light went on.

But all of that energy was sapped when the referees went to conference with head office and reviewed the goal on their dinky little tablet. It seemed likely the goal would be called back by the standards of the season, but the question remains as to whether that play was the kind that shouldn't be rewarded in today's game.

It was an exciting, high-energy play at a crucial moment in a tight game. It was fun hockey.

The Habs are the highest-scoring team in the league right now and their fans don't have much to complain about when it comes to scoring. The fact is that the league needs more goals and calls like the goal-reversal last night sharpen the focus on the issue. As it stands now, the crease is guarded both by the players and the rules, and it's logical to think that shedding one of these protections could allow for more scoring.

There's an understandable desire to get the call right on every play. However, the coach's challenge on plays like this, and the league's decision to rule on it as goaltender interference, only serves to further slow the game and negate the goals it so desperately needs.