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Reaction to controversial faceoff violation

The Nashville Predators’ 2-1 overtime loss in Minnesota was that much harder for the team to stomach given the controversial penalty that led to Devin Setoguchi’s goal.

You see, the NHL has a new rule this season that prohibits players from using their hand to assist in winning a faceoff. Here is how it’s written in the rulebook, as Rule 76.4:

Both players facing-off are prohibited from batting the puck withtheir hand in an attempt to win the face-off. Any attempt by either center to win the face-off by batting the puck with their hand shallresult in a minor penalty. This penalty shall be announced as ” Minor Penalty for Delay of Game – Face-off Violation”. The two players involved in the actual face-off (the centers) are not permitted to play the puck with their hand without incurring a penalty under this ruleuntil such time as a third player (from either team) has at least touched the puck. Once the face-off is deemed complete (and a winner of the face-off is clear) hand passes shall be enforced as per Rule 79.

At 2:48 of overtime, Predators center Paul Gaustad was whistled for a faceoff violation after he nudged a bouncing puck after the faceoff puck drop from linesman Ryan Galloway. There is no YouTube video of the play, but Twitter’s @carolianne_ grabbed this GIF of the faceoff that led to Gaustad being sent to the penalty box:

The penalty created a lengthy buzz on Twitter in regard to the new rule and the result of the penalty: a Minnesota Wild power play goal to win the game in overtime.

The Tennessean received this comment from the NHL Situation Room via email:

“The referee deemed that rule 76.4 applied because as it reads “Both players facing-off are prohibited from batting the puck with their hand in an attempt to win the face-off.” That rule applied because the puck was batted by Paul Gaustad’s left glove off the face off.”

The Tennessean also got reaction from Gaustad, Barry Trotz and Shea Weber.

It’s certainly a tough call for the referees to make at any point in a game, let alone in overtime of a well-played and hard-fought contest. You can make a case that by letter of the law, Gaustad committed a penalty. However, there is no way that this particular play was at the forefront of the NHL’s intention to create this new rule. Gaustad’s left hand, which made contact with the puck, never left his stick. I could see the basis for the faceoff violation if Gaustad used an open hand to bat the puck, but never did that. Gaustad told The Tennessean that he didn’t have any intention to hit the puck. Even if he did, it could have been instinctual if anything.

In fact, here is video of Pittsburgh Penguins center Brandon Sutter being called for a faceoff violation earlier this season:

Now that seems to fall under the rule a lot more than Gaustad’s penalty, which was hardly noticeable when watching the game live. Here are other examples that should lead to the new rule being enforced, none of them like the infraction called on Gaustad.

It will be interesting to see if the NHL rephrases the rule with Saturday’s debacle as an example. The NHL should probably start worrying about other things than Gaustad’s inadvertent nudge in the faceoff circle.

Is this the most controversial penalty called on the Predators since the Ryan Kesler chicken wing in Game 3 of the 2011 Western Conference Semifinals? (That penalty also led to an overtime goal.)

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