This is an updated version of a story written by Kyle Morrison in 2019.
Don't worry, you're safe here. No one is looking over your shoulder (hopefully) to see that you're doing some last-minute cramming on hockey knowledge. You’ve picked the best possible time to become a Blue Jackets fan (and a hockey fan, too), and we’re here to help catch you up to speed.
Welcome back to Bandwagoning 101.
Whether you're a first-time hockey-watcher or someone needing a refresher after not seeing a game be played since March, we're here to help you. This time, we're breaking down some frequently asked questions about the sport.
If we missed one of yours, feel free to drop it in the replies and we'll do our best to tackle it. In the meantime, sit back and let us be your sherpa up the mountain of hockey fandom.
Where on earth is the puck?!
To lifetime hockey fans, this might seem like a condescending question, but I've gathered that it is a genuine problem faced by many new watchers of the spot. After all, it is a 3" puck...
A lot of the time, I suppose I'd say I don't really see exactly where the puck is when watching a game, I just see where it probably is, based on where each player is moving and looking. In the words of Wayne Gretzky, "I skate to where the puck is going to be, not where it has been."
This principle can be applied to watching the game, too, even if we're not all Wayne Gretzky. As you begin to understand the flow of the game better and how fast the puck moves off of a player's stick, it will be easier to track the puck.
My advice, in short, is to not get too fixated on the puck itself, jerking your head and darting your eyes every half-a-second. Instead, watch the game with a wider-scope.
How do you do that, exactly? Look out for an article later this week explaining more.
I don't understand half the words being used by the broadcasters...
Hockey terminology can sound exclusive and intimidating, but it's not too complicated. Here are just a few common phrases or words you may hear but might not know what they mean. We'll get to more throughout this piece.
- Backchecking: Hustling back to your defensive zone in response to the opposing team's attack.
- Forechecking: Pressuring in the offensive zone to gain control of the puck and set up a scoring opportunity.
- Odd-Man-Rush: When a team is entering the attacking zone and outnumbers the opposing players.
- Power play (or man-advantage): When one team has more players on the ice than the other team as a result of penalties assessed to the shorthanded team.
- Penalty kill (or short-handed): When a team has fewer players on the ice than the opposing team as a result of a penalty or penalties.
What are the positions?
Each team is allowed to have six skaters on the ice at one time (and one of those six is almost always a goalie). The other five are broken down into two groups - forwards (three skaters) and defensemen (two skaters).
Why do some goals get reviewed and then taken away?
There is no bigger buzzkill than to have your team score, only for the refs to huddle together, pick up a phone call only to then announce to the arena that the goal no longer counts.
So...why does that happen? There are quite a few reasons for a goal to be taken away, so let's discuss the most frequent ones.
A hockey rink is divided into three zones. Wherever your team’s goalie is, that’s your defensive zone. The other team’s goalie is in your offensive zone. Each of those goes from the end boards up to the closest blue line on the ice. The space between the blue lines is the neutral zone.
A play is only onside if the puck (or player clearly controlling the puck) enters the offensive zone before another player (of the team that is going into the offensive zone) does. It sounds complicated but here's your TL;DR: the puck has to cross the blue line before the players do.
Do the officials always get it right? Nope! Let’s take a look at perhaps the most egregious example of a blown call, starring our ex-Blue Jacket friend Matt Duchene back in his Colorado days.
Duchene clearly entered the zone before the puck did, but the refs (hilariously) didn’t catch it and he ended up scoring a goal. So, if a player without the puck has both skates in the zone before the puck enters the zone, it's offsides. This is why you will see players stretching to make sure their back skate is behind the blue line at times when entering the zone.
Here's the exception. If a player has possession of the puck themselves, they can enter the offensive zone before the puck does (let's say they're skating backward while cradling the puck), and it's not offsides.
Distinct Kicking Motion
You may have heard the term "distinct kicking motion" before. This one should be simple, but it can get murky, so let's start with the basics. The best (and usual) way that a player scores a goal is by shooting it off of their hockey stick. But sometimes, the puck enters the net after hitting off someone's skate blade, arm, back and even helmet.
Most of the time, there's nothing wrong with this - it's a good goal. That is, if it's accidental. If a player intentionally hits the puck into the net with any part of their body or equipment that isn't their stick, though, it is an illegal goal.
So - now we are onto how to determine intentionality, which is the confusing part. Most controversial goals happen off of a puck hitting a player's skate, because, you know, the puck is usually on the ice, and skates are always moving and turning. So, when reviewing the play, the decision needs to be made if there was a distinct kicking motion to get the puck in the net, or if it was an incidental deflection.
This distinct scope would also apply to a player hitting the puck into the net with their hand, shoulder, head, etc.
The vintage video game NHL Hitz may teach you that you can obliterate the opposing goalie and shoot the puck into an empty net for a goal, but unfortunately, that's now how this (or any) hockey league works.
Goaltender interference calls typically happen when an opposing player bumps into or falls into a goalie, and while the goalie is still recovering, the puck enters the net. However, if a player is pushed by a member of the goalie's own team into that goalie, the goal still counts. Long story short, a player can't directly interfere with a goalie trying to save a puck, or the goal will be waved off.
And depending on the severity of the bump or fall, the player may be called a penalty, too.
Additionally, each goaltender has the right to his own crease space (the blue painted area in front of the net), and you really can't touch the goalie while they are in that crease space. Now, if the goalie, on their own power, leaves the crease, then to some extent, it's anyone for themselves. You can't "check" or hit the goalie still, but an incidental bumping of them may not lead to a goalie interference call. Note - this is rare. Goalies usually stay in their crease.
These rules sound fine and dandy, but any long-time hockey fan has a memory of their favorite team being shafted from a "bad call". Example A below - Alexander Wennberg being pushed into Marc-Andre Fleury, who is pretty far out of the crease, and yet goaltender interference is called. Welcome to the NHL!
Why did that guy just get kicked out of the face-off circle?
First of all, every player cheats on face-offs. Or at least they try to.
The easy explanation here is that the player committed some kind of a face-off violation. The most common instances of that are initiating contact with the opposing player before the referee drops the puck and/or impeding on the other guy's half of the circle. Essentially, players have to wait for the puck to be dropped and stay on their side until it leaves the ref's hand.
Repeated violations will lead the referee to require a new player from that team to replace the player who committed the violation. And as of a few years ago, if that new player to enter the circle commits a face-off violation in the same play, it results in a two-minute penalty against his team.
Icing...what is that?
In the simplest terms, it’s when a team shoots the puck more than halfway down the ice and doesn’t hit the net.
Let’s say that Toronto Maple Leafs' defenseman Morgan Riley is stuck in his own zone during a long shift, and wants to get a break. He can’t just throw the puck all the way down the ice as a stalling tactic. If a team wants to get a line change in that situation, they either have to dump it slow enough that it’s still playable before it reaches the other team’s goalie, or they have to get it to center ice (the red line) first.
There’s one huge exception to this, though, and that’s when the other team is on a power play. Teams can ice the puck in that situation solely because the other team already has a 5-on-4 advantage.
There are two ways to negate icing. First is to have a player tip the puck at the red line, a very common tactic. The second is a bit rarer but has some huge upside, and that’s to beat the defender to the puck at the other end of the ice.
What does that last one look like in action? Here’s a trick play that Artemi Panarin and Pierre-Luc Dubois pulled off last season.
When icing is called, the face-off goes back into the defensive zone, which is why you don’t want your team to get called for it too much. Also, every player from the defending team that was on the ice for the icing call has to stay on the ice for the ensuing face-off, so it can’t be used for a line change.
Still, it can be a useful stalling tactic if a team needs a few seconds to regroup. Repeatedly icing the puck can lead to a delay of game penalty, though, so it’s a bit like playing with fire.
Penalties! How do those things work?
Ah, yes, speaking of penalties, there are a few types of those. Penalties cause the committer of the penalty to head to the penalty box for a scheduled amount of time, while his team plays "down a man" until his time is served.
If while your team is on that "five (skaters) on four (skaters)" penalty kill, they commit another penalty, it goes to a "five on three" penalty kill. But, it stops here. If another penalty is committed during this time by the same team, they will keep adding players to the penalty box, but they don't lose another man on the ice. Three is the lowest amount of skaters you can have on the penalty kill.
Minor Penalties: Expire after 2 minutes or when a power play goal is scored
- Tripping: Using the stick or foot to trip a player, intentional or not
- Hooking: Using the stick to restrain a player from behind
- Boarding: Checking a player into the boards from behind or with excessive force
- Spearing: Whacking a player between the legs with your stick
- Slashing: Whacking an opponent with the stick, usually on the hands
- Holding: Restraining a player with your arms
- High sticking: Hitting a player above the shoulders with your stick
- Elbowing: Initiating contact with the elbow.
- Charging: Striding/accelerating into a hit, rather than gliding.
Major Penalties: Expire after 5 minutes whether or not a power play goal is scored
- Fighting: Although nobody gets a power play (remains five-on-five) in the aftermath.
- Any minor penalty committed with obvious intent to injure.
Other Penalty Types
- Double minor: When a player draws blood on a minor penalty (usually high-sticking) – if a player scores in the first two minutes of a four-minute double minor, the penalty clock winds down to two minutes and the team remains on the power play.
- Match penalty: Deliberately injuring an opponent. The offending player is ejected from the game and the penalty is treated as a five-minute major.
- Penalty Shot: If a player has a clear breakaway and a player behind them commits a minor penalty, the player gets a penalty shot in lieu of a power play being awarded.
- Instigator: This one is pretty rare in today's game, but basically any player who egregiously goes out of their way to instigate a fight.
Seth Jones rules, why is he only out there for about ⅓ of the game?
Believe it or not, skating is exhausting! NHL players are in crazy good shape, but they go all-out every time they touch the ice, limiting their shifts to between 30 and 45 seconds. And that's not so everyone gets their fair share of playing time. It's because you'd pass out if you went any longer.
Ever wonder why Jones is not out there but players like Dean Kukan or David Savard are? Or why Cam Atkinson isn't out there but players like Riley Nash or Alexander Wennberg are? Even the best forwards on their biggest nights rarely play more than 20 minutes and roughly 25 minutes for the defenseman. As good as they are - they're still human, and need time to rest.
I was told there would be more fights...
Fighting has been declining in the sport for a few years now. For decades, most teams would carry one guy who would get minimum ice time but was tough as hell and was basically just there to fight. For the Blue Jackets, this was Jared Boll.
Boll played 579 NHL games and ended up with just 66 career points. His role wasn’t to make crisp passes or carry the puck through the zone with speed, it was to fight. His final career total for penalty minutes is an astounding 1,298. That’s a lot of fights!
So, why is fighting declining? Because the game is getting faster and more geared towards skilled players. A traditional enforcer's lineup slot could be filled instead by a player who can keep up on both ends and chip in some offense. That doesn't mean that players like Nick Foligno and Josh Anderson won't drop the gloves, but wouldn't you rather have those guys on the ice than in the box?
What's the difference between a cheap shot and a clean hit?
Do you ever feel like you see a monstrous open-ice hit where the recipient is nearly unconscious and there's no penalty called, but a routine check against the boards draws the ref to raise his hand? What gives?
Well, it seems like there's some subjectiveness to penalties being called, and with checking, the area is even more grey.
Using your shoulders, body or hips to hit an opposing player into the boards or in the open ice is typically legal (I'll explain the "typically" in a second). Using your hands, stick or elbows to hit a player is illegal. The main reason being these methods cause far more dangerous outcomes than the former ones.
To the refs' credit though, at full speed, it's hard to tell which method a player used to complete their check. Was that an elbow or a shoulder? In slo-mo replays, it's easy for us fans to see what happened, but at the ice-level, that can be a monstrous task.
There are also some caveats, back to when I said what was "typically" legal. There are penalties, like charging and boarding discussed earlier, that negate even a textbook method of checking. Meaning, you can check someone using your shoulder or hip, but if it's done in a charging or boarding manner, it's illegal. Here's an example:
Lastly, the biggest negation is a hit-to-the-head. That's a no-go in any context, and you will (almost always) be penalized for it.
How can you tell who’s playing better even if the game is scoreless?
Some networks (like FOX Sports Ohio) display a running total of shots on goal during the broadcast, but that only tells part of the story. Just like it did for Jonah Hill’s career, the analytics movement in sports is transforming hockey. Even John Tortorella’s bought in, to an extent.
Shots on goal are a fairly rudimentary statistic. But not all shots go in the books as a shot. For instance, if Seth Jones shoots the puck and it's blocked by a player from the other team before it reaches the net, it's a shot attempt, but not a shot. Also, if a player shoots high or wide and misses the net, that's a shot attempt, but not a shot (even if the goalie gets a piece of the shot). Yeah, the NHL is weird like that. Shot attempts tend to better tell the story of who’s controlling the game. After all, you can’t shoot the puck if you don’t have it.
But what if a team is just throwing easy shots on net? That’s where other, stats, like scoring chances and high-danger chances come into play. Natural Stat Trick is a great resource for information like this on any and every game.
Where do stats like hits and +/- come into play?
Well, less and less lately. Hits can help swing momentum and will make players more hesitant to dig loose pucks out of corners if they've been hit a few times, but you can’t register a hit if your team has the puck. So while cool and fun, big hit totals tend to mean that your team was chasing play and the game is moving towards a more skilled model.
As for +/-. well, it only tells a very small part of the story. Essentially, it’s the differential of (even strength, 5-on-5) goals while a player is on the ice. Play on a bad team? You’ll likely get a lot of 'minuses'. Get a lot of defensive-zone starts? Pile on the minuses. If the goalie lets in an absolute softy of a goal, you get a minus.
When does it make sense to pull the goalie?
Hey, another #FancyStats debate! It’s pretty rare to see a team pull the goalie with more than 90 seconds left in the game if they’re down by one goal – even in today’s analytics-driven game – but there is plenty of data that supports doing it even earlier.
We won’t get too into the weeds here, but pulling the goalie with about 2:30 to go in a one-goal game increases the chances of a comeback by about two percent.
Why did it take the Blue Jackets 19 years to make it to the second round of the playoffs, but Vegas nearly won the Stanley Cup in their first year?
Without getting too in the weeds, here are the three biggest reasons.
- The Blue Jackets had to compete with another team, Minnesota, in their expansion draft
- The player pool for the Blue Jackets expansion draft was both smaller and weaker overall due to the rules at the time.
- The Blue Jackets squandered a bunch of high draft picks and made some trades that look really bad in hindsight for years before John Davidson and Jarmo Kekalainen took over the hockey operations department.
How important are things like face-offs?
Faceoffs are how teams try to gain possession of a dead puck and winning one can help drive possession, but there's a growing belief that they're not as important as they were once considered. Still, you'd rather win a faceoff than lose one, particularly important ones, like faceoffs late in the game in your own defensive zone.
Why aren't the Blue Jackets shooting more on the power play?
If you've ever been to a Blue Jackets home game at Nationwide Arena, and they're on the power play, you likely have heard others in the arena (and maybe yourself) yell “SHOOOOOOOOOT!” at our boys in blue.
And sometimes - it is justified! It does seem like there are times that the Blue Jackets are more fixated on making cute passes than actually scoring. In a man-advantage scenario, shouldn’t they be shooting every chance they get?
There are a few answers I have for this. One is more shots does not always mean you’re getting the best shots. It’s fair to see even the best teams probably accumulate 4-5 shots on net (not shot attempts) on a full two minute power play. High-danger and low-danger chances are a recordable and useful stat (kept on places like NaturalStatTrick.com), meaning there’s scoring opportunities that are more realistic than others.
For example, a one-timer across the crease is a more dangerous chance than just shooting the puck at a bad angle from the blue line with no screens in front of the net. So, just because someone has the puck and it looks like they could shoot it, does not mean they should.
I will also say that moving the puck around and making the opposing penalty killers skate more and exert energy is a great thing. The quicker you can move the puck around and make the opposing team use their legs, the more tired they will be. On the power play, most of the players trying to score are somewhat stationary, so it’s wise to take advantage of the defense needing to constantly chase you. Wear them down, then capitalize.
Again, I know the Blue Jackets take too long with this at times. But there is a lot of good that comes from being patient on a power play. Next time you seem them on the man advantage, before you scream for them to shoot, keep an eye out for their intentions and strategies in passing the puck in circles. It’ll help you learn the game more!
How do the lines work? Are the best players always on the top line?
Not necessarily! A team’s first line is typically its most potent, but coaches will move guys around if it can spark certain players. The objective is to get every player rolling at their peak. Having three very good lines is likely better – by virtue of their ability to be on the ice for more of the game – than having one *great* line.
For now, the Blue Jackets have found a great balance that involves a few scoring threats on each line, and a defensive-minded forward to keep them sober. Here’s a refresher of what their forward lines look like right now:
|Left Wing||Center||Right Wing||Line Breakdown|
|FIRST LINE||Nick Foligno||Pierre-Luc Dubois||Oliver Bjorkstrand||A defensive-minded forward (Foligno) and two goal-scorers.|
|SECOND LINE||Gus Nyquist||Boone Jenner||Cam Atkinson||A defensive-minded forward (Jenner) and two goal-scorers.|
|THIRD LINE||Alexandre Texier||Alexander Wennberg||Emil Bemstrom||Two sharp-shooting wingers and a center with lethal passing ability (when he wants to).|
|FOURTH LINE||Eric Robinson||Riley Nash||Liam Foudy||Two speedy wingers and a stay-at-home forward.|
I want to follow the next generation of players. How does the draft/development system work?
Here’s where things get a bit complicated.
In the United States, certain college players are eligible to be drafted, although most will come from the USHL (an amateur development league) or the United States National Team Development Program. Players drafted from one of those leagues (or some Canadian/overseas amateur leagues) are still eligible to play in college provided they aren’t under contract.
By drafting a player who’s on their way to college, though, the team retains their exclusive rights for a few years. A few high-profile players recently have waited for that clock to run out (as it does after four years) and signed wherever they wanted to – a scenario that’s happened twice to the Blue Jackets (with Mike Reilly and, ironically enough, ex-Blue Jacket Adam McQuaid) over the past few years.
The bulk of the players taken in the draft come from the Canadian Hockey League (CHL), though, which is comprised of three sub-leagues: the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL), the Ontario Hockey League (OHL) and the Western Hockey League (WHL). The vast majority of those drafted players will stay in the CHL for another year or two, then come play in the AHL when eligible.
Then, there’s Europe. There are a handful of leagues there (the biggest ones being in Sweden, Finland and Russia) that churn out draft talent, although players there can sign on with those clubs before coming over. In the case of a player like Vladislav Gavrikov or Elvis Merzlikins, those contracts originally prevented them from coming over stateside until recently.
You're ready! You've conquered a late-nighty study session before a final exam, and you're ready to pass with flying colors. As you sit down to watch our boys in blue take the ice for the first time in more than four months on Sunday, feel free to come back to this page as a cheat-sheet throughout the contest.
This is an open-note test, didn't you hear?
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