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Saturday, October 22, 2005
Updated: October 24, 1:19 PM ET
No fine line yet for goalie interference

By Terry Frei
Special to ESPN.com

VANCOUVER, British Columbia -- Looking back on his last days with the Detroit Red Wings, Curtis Joseph smiled and sounded like Dr. Phil.

"I'd recommend the high road to anybody," Joseph said at General Motors Place. "You wonder about it and you don't really appreciate it until you do it and you find that it worked for everyone. But I recommend it."

Evgeni Nabokov
The Sharks' Evgeni Nabokov was hurt after players crashed into the net during a game Friday night.

Actually, the veteran goaltender, now with the Coyotes, was talking hours before he came up short in his attempt to get his 400th career victory Thursday night, in a 3-2 loss punctuated by a controversial play on the game-winning goal.

Trying to put on the breaks, Vancouver's Ed Jovanovski nonetheless ran into Cujo, and the net was on the verge of coming off the moorings when Matt Cooke knocked in the rebound an instant before he crashed into the net, and then it was completely off its moorings. Referee Mick McGeough ruled no goal, but the play went to video review and the (correct) call that it was a goal brought a look of disbelief to Wayne Gretzky's face behind the bench.

"Yeah, I saw it on the replay," Cujo told the media scrum (not scum). "It's too late to argue it now. If you're a Canuck fan, you went hard to the net on a breakaway. In you're a Coyote fan, it was interference."

Most of the discussions of the New NHL haven't brought up the scenario of a defenseman breaking in alone, as happened with Jovanovski and Joseph. So it's an extreme example of one fallout phenomenon we're witnessing in the early days of the relaunched and essentially redesigned league. With defensemen still not quite sure what they can and can't get away with, especially in front of the net, goaltenders are taking a pounding from emboldened opponents.

In part because David Aebischer isn't playing well behind him, Colorado's Rob Blake is a horrible minus-8, and his status as one of the players on the NHL's competition committee doesn't give him personal exemptions.

Blake, in fact, has liked the way the rules and anti-obstruction standards are working.

For the most part.

He said discussions on conference calls have centered on "the same thing, 'Keep to the mandate on the calls.' The battles in front of the net, the battles going into the corner, that's fine, there's going to be contact. But if you're in the corner, and you're in the lesser position, you can't hook and hold. That's the way we want it played throughout. I think you'll see the refs adjust, and there will be a little more contact in front of the net, because that's where the battle is."

Yet so far, the battle is drawing in the goalie. The Canadiens' Jose Theodore and the Devils' Martin Brodeur, among others, have spoken out. It should be pointed out that they haven't been whining, and their position is understandable. But Joseph hasn't been as outspoken.

"That's just the way the new rules are," Joseph said philosophically. "There are guys there who didn't used to be."

He said he's going to protect himself, and his crease, but he's not going to turn into a highly combative and combustible Billy Smith overnight. "I've been at it 17 years," he said. "It's hard for me to change too much."

Blake said he didn't "understand what their complaint is, by [goalies] saying they're not being protected. I think they're calling it the same as in the past. I know guys can take a line at the net a little harder now because there isn't the hook-and-hold-'em and that, but I do think the refs are going to call it. Any contact whatsoever is going to be called, and it has to be.

"The protection should come in the form of the refs, just as it should when you're getting hit from behind. I think the refs have got to call any crease interference with the goaltender."

Aebischer, Blake's goaltender, rebounded with a solid game at Edmonton on Friday night, and he has calmed down a bit after losing his temper and taking a costly roughing penalty against Nashville last week when he thought he was being run.

"Oh yeah, that wasn't really smart on my part," Aebischer said. "You just have to handle and deal with it. They don't call much right now on that. For every goaltender it's the same, so you have to live with that."

Vancouver's Dan Cloutier, known to be a bit combative himself, sounded a slightly dissenting voice.

"I expected it with all the new rules," he said. "You knew the D wouldn't be able to do as much. I expected to have guys crashing the net. And it has happened. They come hard."

He shrugged and added, "But that's the way it is now. I don't know if we deserve protection. I think every time someone has run into me and bumped me, they've called the penalty. If they keep calling it, it doesn't bother me. I've heard some talk, but everyone's different. You can't please everybody."

In the preseason, Tampa Bay coach John Tortorella, an enthusiastic proponent of rewarding speed and skill in the game, passionately argued that there was a fine line between doing that and excessively punishing "physicality." His point, which many have made, is that there should be a way to still allow major contact and aggression.

There's nothing wrong with exiling the repeated cross check in the front of the net.

"The problem was it creeped up over the years, and it got tolerated more and more," Blake said. "It should never have been."

And there's nothing wrong with chasing off the virtually anything-goes attitude that sometimes prevailed.

If a few games are influenced by marginal or even precedent-setting goaltender interference calls, including when "unimpeded" skaters have full momentum and a cavalier attitude about plowing into or even brushing the goalie, so be it. Teams that don't adjust to this as well deserve no sympathy.

But this is one area where the evolutionary process will have to be given some time before conclusions are drawn.

And if it gets back enough to make Curtis Joseph take the lower road and begin complaining a lot, we'll know it's time to do reassess.

Terry Frei is a regular contributor to ESPN.com. He is the author of "Third Down and a War to Go" and "Horns, Hogs, and Nixon Coming."