Members of the Detroit Red Wings community -- players, coaches, fans, etc. --- are understandably upset following the team's overtime loss to the Minnesota Wild on Tuesday night. After all, the Wings blew a one-goal lead in the final regulation, only to take a penalty in overtime, give up another Minnesota goal and lose the game.
It must have felt like highway robbery, and in a flash, they lost a point in the standings and their fifth straight game after starting the season with five straight wins.
But the simple act of blowing the lead isn't what's bugging Wings fans on Wednesday morning. No, they feel their team was unfairly treated at the end of the game, when Wild forward Mikko Koivu absolutely decked Wings defenseman Niklas Kronwall. Koivu's hit earned him some free space to spin and carry the puck towards the slot where he fed Devin Setoguchi down low, all along with goaltender Jimmy Howard.
Setoguchi won the one-on-one battle with speedy ease, and the Wild won the game. The video:
You can see why Wings fans are upset with the hit, especially considering it directly led to the winning goal, but was it actually an illegal check? They certainly think so over at Winging It In Motown, where their gripes are apparently a) Koivu's hit was intereference b) Setoguchi interfered with Howard and c) the referee seems to have some sort of fecal matter inside of his skull.
I'm not sure we can figure out the last claim without a medical license, so we'll have to ignore that one for now. Let's take a look at the other claims, though. First, the idea that Setoguchi interfered with the Wings goaltender.
It's kind of a tough call. The interference rule gives a lot of emphasis on "body position," and typically, body position is established by two players skating towards the puck. It appears as though Setoguchi is attempting to just get a screen in front of Howard when the two get tangled up. It doesn't appear as though Setoguchi is really trying to interfere with Howard at all. At least not from this reverse angle:
Seems like quite the opposite, actually. Setoguchi seems to want the call on Howard. But nonetheless here, I think we can all agree this is the minor of the two incidents that happen on the play. After all, Setoguchi and Howard come unglued by the time Koivu puts the puck on net. If there was interference here, it didn't affect the outcome of the play.
This Koivu hit on Kronwall, though? Yeah, that impacted the play alright. Was it interference? With a first glance at the rulebook, yes, it seems like it is.
A minor penalty shall be imposed on a player who interferes with or impedes the progress of an opponent who is not in possession of the puck.
A minor penalty shall be imposed on a player or goalkeeper who restrains an opponent who is attempting to "fore-check."
A minor penalty shall be imposed on an attacking player who deliberately checks a defensive player, including the goalkeeper, who is not in possession of the puck.
That third part seems as though it would rule in favor of Kronwall here, but is he really considered a defensive player when he's chasing after the puck? Just because he's in the defensive zone? He's attempting to forecheck, you'd say then, and that second part would seem to rule in favor of Kronwall as well.
But a bit of a deeper dive into Rule 56 governing interference provides a bit of gray area. Actually, a lot of gray area. First, on body position:
Body position shall be determined as the player skating in front of or beside his opponent, traveling in the same direction. A player who is behind an opponent, who does not have the puck, may not use his stick, body or free hand in order to restrain his opponent, but must skate in order to gain or reestablish his proper position in order to make a check.
Definitely safe to say that Koivu has body position. It's a fact and whatnot. Let's agree. He's also technically considered the puck carrier, even though he's still in pursuit of the puck. From the the same rule:
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.
Koivu was the last player to touch the puck, other than Jimmy Howard. He also has body position. Here's the part that we're after, then, and the emphasis is ours:
A player is always entitled to use his body position to lengthen an opponent's path to the puck, provided his stick is not utilized (to make himself "bigger" and therefore considerably lengthening the distance his opponent must travel to get where he is going); his free hand is not used and he does not take advantage of his body position to deliver an otherwise illegal check.
There are other stipulations in the rules that outline restraint and picks and whatnot, but they all fall on the same idea: If a player has body position, he can deliver a legal check in pursuit of the puck. We realize this is counter to the first part we mentioned, but we're siding with the section of the rule that goes into deeper detail.
Koivu has body position, and that means he's allowed to hit Kronwall as long as the hit is legal according to this reading of the rules. It's not interference. So, was it a legal hit? There's no stick foul on the play, so we can rule that out. It's not a board, a charge, a check from behind, a clip, an elbow, a head-butt, a kick, a knee or a slew-foot.
The only thing this could be is hit to the head. We know Rule 48 by heart now, but just to reiterate:
A hit resulting in contact with an opponent's head where the head is targeted and the principal point of contact is not permitted. However, in determining whether such a hit should have been permitted, the circumstances of the hit, including whether the opponent put himself in a vulnerable position immediately prior to or simultaneously with the hit or the head contact on an otherwise legal body check was avoidable, can be considered.
The hit was not one where the head was the principal point of contact. It's a shoulder check to the chest that caught Kronwall completely off guard, but it wasn't to the head. If it was, the head wasn't the the main point of contact. A violent but legal hit.
So according to our reading of an admittedly convoluted section of the rulebook, Mikko Koivu did nothing wrong on this play. Instead of talking about how the Wild win shouldn't have counted because he interfered with somebody, we should probably be talking about how awesome a play this was.
Koivu laid out an awesomely legal hit on his way towards chasing down his own rebound, and he was able to get off a fancy little pass through a defender to enable Setoguchi to win the game. Instead of blaming the hit, the Wings should maybe blame the penalty that put Minnesota on the man-advantage, or perhaps the blowing of a one-goal lead in the third period, or their goaltender for not making the stop on Setoguchi down low.
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