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Understanding NHL rules for beginners
There are a lot of NHL followers (ones I know, at least) that are "fan elitists." These individuals look at new fans, especially those that live in hockey cities with good teams such as Pittsburgh, Washington or Detroit, as "bandwagon fans." The simple fact is that the NHL needs all the fans it can get, and I welcome all new fans to the wonderful game known as NHL hockey. NHL beginners may be a little confused about the sport, other than the fact that the overall objective is to put that little round thingy into the netted thingy. Here are some rules that may confuse the NHL beginner.
NHL rules for beginners #1: Icing and offsides
Offsides in an NHL hockey game is slightly different than the five yard penalty of the same name in football games, as there is no stoppage of play or line of scrimmage in NHL hockey games. In hockey, offsides is called when an offensive player crosses the opponent's blue line before the puck crosses the line. The result of the call is a face-off directly outside the opponent's offensive zone.
Icing is called when a player "dumps" the puck from his team's zone deep into the opponent's zone. The puck must cross two red lines and be touched by a player of the opposing team that isn't the goalie for icing to be called. Play is stopped and a face-off occurs in the guilty party's zone.
NHL rules for beginners #2: Penalties
There are three types of penalties in NHL hockey games; minor penalties, double minors and major penalties. A minor penalty, such as tripping, results in the guilty party being "disqualified" for two minutes. The player is sent to what is known as the "penalty box" during that time. A double minor is, as you'd probably guess, four minutes in length. These are more serious infractions, such as a slash that draws blood. A major penalty, like fighting, is a five minute penalty. How are teams affected by penalties? I'm glad you asked.
NHL rules for beginners #3: Power plays
When a player is sent to the penalty box, the opposing team receives a 5-on-4 advantage known as a power play. The power play goes on until the penalty time (explained in the previous section) expires or the team on a power play scores a goal. Teams can go on a 5-on-3 power play, but that's the largest man-advantage allowed by NHL rules. Any further penalties are enforced by keeping a player (or players) in the penalty box for a longer period of time (see the NHL Rulebook link below for more on this).
A team that's facing a power play is known as being on the penalty kill. If that team scores a goal, it's referred to as a shorthanded goal.
NHL rules for beginners #4: Plus-minus
Perhaps the most confusing thing for a NHL beginner, just because it's rarely, if ever, explained during any NHL broadcast. A player is awarded a "plus point" if he is on the ice when his team scores an even-strength (5-on-5, 4-on-4, etc.) or shorthanded goal. The players on the opposite team get a "minus point." Power play goals and penalty shots don't affect a player's plus-minus rating.
NHL rules for beginners #5: Overtime
Overtime in an NHL regular season game is a 4-on-4 five minute period that ends if one team scores, "golden goal" style. Otherwise, the game is decided by a three-man (or more, if necessary) shootout.
An overtime period in an NHL playoff game is a standard 20 minute period that also only ends if a goal is scored. Unlike the regular season, though, there is no shootout. There are just intermissions and 20 minute periods until a goal is scored. The game can have one, two, three or infinite (in theory) overtime periods until a goal is scored.
Resources: 2010 NHL Rulebook (PDF)
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