Q: Through the early weeks of the season it seems there have been quite a few goals scored while offensive players are sprawled on the goalie or lying in the crease. More often than not, there was some defensive contact, but it seems like players are exaggerating this contact to interfere with the goalie. Doesn't allowing this seem counterproductive, in light of the post-lockout emphasis on speed and skill?
Devon Halley, Pittsburgh
MOLINARI: There have been times -- lots of them, actually -- in 2007-08 when it had looked as if the nameplates on the back of goaltenders' sweaters have been removed and replaced with a "Hit Me" sign. That wasn't much of an issue back in the days when goals would be disallowed if an opposing player even looked hard at the crease, let alone ventured into it, but with that restriction removed, it sometimes looks as if it's open season on goalies.
For what it's worth, the type of goals to which you refer are more a product of interpretation/application than of the letter of the law, because Rule 69 provides ample protection for goaltenders, at least in theory. It reads, in part, that "the overriding rationale of this rule is that a goalkeeper should have the ability to move freely within his goal crease without being hindered by the actions of an attacking player."
Specifically, Rule 69.3 calls for goals to be disallowed if scored after an attacking player initiates contact, incidental or intentional, with the goalie inside the crease, or even if the goalie initiates the contact while establishing his position inside the crease but has his ability to defend his goal impaired as a result. It also says goals should be disallowed if an opponent sets up in the crease "so as to obstruct the goalkeeper's vision and impair his ability to defend his goal."
Rule 69.4 covers contact outside the crease, and says the goal should be waved off if an attacking player intentionally initiates contact with a goalie there and specifies that "a goalkeeper is not 'fair game' just because he is outside the goal crease."
Some referees seem to be giving the benefit of the doubt to attacking players who are knocked into a goalie by the goalie's teammate, whether the goalie is inside or outside; goals are supposed to stand if it's determined that the attacking player "made a reasonable effort to avoid contact." However, if the referee decides that such an effort was not made, he is supposed to disallow a goal, if one was scored, and assess whatever penalty he deems appropriate.
Q: Is it time to lower our expectations for Kris Letang, or was he scratched because the organization expects more out of him?
Neil Parker, Harrisburg
MOLINARI: Well, he's 20 years old, has appeared in a total of 13 professional games (regular season and playoffs) and plays a position many in the industry consider the toughest to master, so it might be just a tad early to downgrade Letang from can't-miss impact player to a footnote in the Penguins' future.
While it goes without saying that everyone in the organization has to be disappointed that Wilkes-Barre/Scranton coach Todd Richards was so dissatisfied with Letang's performance in the first five games that he saw fit to make him a healthy scratch last Saturday, it's way, way, way too much of a stretch to read anything long-term into that.
Letang's offensive output with the Baby Penguins -- five assists in five games -- has been fine; there aren't many defensemen, rookie or otherwise, who score at a point-per-game clip. His defensive work has not met Richards' expectations, however, which is why Letang sat for the game in Bridgeport. Although his forte is offense, Letang has to contribute at both ends of the rink and, until he shows that he can do that at the American Hockey League level, he shouldn't be counting on a promotion to the Penguins.