By Stu Hackel
The NHL has a few statistical rules that cause some people to scratch their heads. And when Hurricanes goaltender Cam Ward was credited with a goal against the Devils on Monday night without ever actually shooting the puck – or anyone on his team even shooting the puck – well, it’s easy to imagine the howls in various quarters.
I’m not among the howlers. Hockey’s rules state that the player who touches the puck last for the team that scores gets credit for the goal, and that was Ward. There’s nothing wrong with that.
Hockey isn’t like basketball on this. In the NBA and college, if a player accidentally bounces, tips or otherwise puts the ball into their own hoop, the nearest player on the opposing team is awarded the points. That player could be an innocent bystander but, hey, that’s the rule.
In soccer, if a ball that would otherwise have missed the net goes in thanks to the action of a defending team member, the attackers get credit for the goal but, generally, not a specific player. It’s termed an “own goal” and the player on the defending team who somehow put it past his own goalie is named as the culprit, and publicly humiliated forever in the game’s statistical summary.
But hockey requires that every tally is credited to a scorer on the team that netted the goal — except, of course, in the sport’s big exception to everything: the postgame skills competition, otherwise known as the shootout. A team will get credit for a one-goal victory, but the goal that wins it is credited to….well, no one. Don’t get me started on shootouts.
Let’s forget that bit of absurdity here and follow the game’s logic. A guy takes a shot from the point. His teammate deftly deflects the puck past the goalie and scores. Who gets the goal? Not the guy who originally shot it. How do you know it would have gone in had it not been deflected? You can’t. So the last guy who touches the puck gets credit.
Take it one step further: The puck is shot, hits a few bodies, one of which is a player on the shooter’s team, and ricochets into the net. Who gets credit? Again, not the shooter for the same reason. So the last of his teammates to touch the puck gets the goal.
One more step: A guy takes a shot that’s knocked down by a defenseman who tries to clear it out of danger. But accidentally, he puts it past his own goalie. Who gets the goal? The last guy on the scoring team to touch the puck: the shooter in this case.
It’s always the last guy and that is the principle used for awarding goals. It doesn’t vary. When you watch a cop show on TV, you might hear the term “chain of custody” when they’re discussing evidence. That’s one way to think about how goals are credited: to the last guy who had custody of the puck — and merely touching it constitutes custody.
It’s Rule 78.4 and it’s one of the oldest in the book: “A goal shall be scored if the puck is put into the goal in any way by a player of the defending side. The player of the attacking side who last touched the puck shall be credited with the goal but no assist shall be awarded.”
Now, let’s look at Ward’s goal from Monday night, which came with Devils goalie Johan Hedberg pulled in the last minute for an extra attacker:
Of course, Ward didn’t shoot the puck in, but when made a save earlier, he became the last guy on his team to touch the puck. Voila! Un but pour le gardien.
Goalies being credited with goals in NHL play is a relatively new and rare occurence. The first time it happened was in 1979, when the league was already in its 63rd season. The Islanders’ Billy Smith was given a goal on a play similar to Ward’s. Smith didn’t shoot the puck that night against the Colorado Rockies (who are now the Devils), either. Rockies defenseman Rob Ramage picked it up off Smith’s save in the corner and passed it out to the blueline for another shot. But no one was there.
That play leads off this compilation video of NHL goalies who have scored goals:
Ward’s goal is only the 12th of its type ever in NHL play and the first time a goalie has gotten into the “G” column since Nashville’s Chris Mason did it against Phoenix on April 15, 2006. Half have been “own goals” like Ward’s. In fact the last three — Ward’s, Mason’s and Mika Noronen’s in Feb. 2004 against the Maple Leafs, were shot in by the opposing team.
Evgeni Nabokov, then of the Sharks, was the last goalie to actually shoot the puck into the net back in March, 2002, against the Canucks. The first was Ron Hextall of the Flyers against the Bruins in 1987. His second goal in the compilation above — on April 11, 1989 against Washington – was a shorthanded tally and the first ever by a goalie in the Stanley Cup playoffs.
Marty Brodeur of the Devils also has two career goals, the first of which was also in the playoffs, against Montreal in April 1997. His second goal, against Philadelphia in Feb. 2000, actually turned out to be the game-winner. It was scored into the Flyers’ empty net, giving New Jersey a 3-1 lead. Each team scored again before time expired and Brodeur’s tally held up as decisive. It’s the only time a goalie has been credited with the game-winning goal.
No goalie has ever scored in NHL play when the opposing goalie was not sitting on the bench for an extra attacker. It’s pretty unlikely that one would score with the other goalie still on the ice, especially since the rules prohibit netminders from handling the puck beyond the center red line. But it’s not unimaginable — a goalie could fire the puck down the ice, his counterpart could misplay it or slip and have the disc get by him.
Vesa Toskala of the Maple Leafs showed how this was possible in a 2008 game against the Islanders:
That’s all fantasy however. In the real world, as Greg Wyshynksi of Yahoo’s Puck Daddy pointed out on Monday night, Ward now has more goals this season than Scott Gomez, Marty Reasoner, Magnus Paajarvi, Philippe Dupuis, Colton Gillies, Tim Jackman, Chris Thorburn and Zach Boychuk.
As a guy who started out his hockey-playing days as a maskless goalie, I always get a charge out of a netminder being credited with a goal. Guys who strap on the big pads celebrate these events as if they are another holiday.