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NHL skates into action

By Eric Weinberg

Section: Sports

October 14, 2005

The National Hockey League returned with a bang on October 5, as the 2005-2006 season began with a thriller in Boston. The Montreal Canadiens scored the game-winning goal over the Boston Bruins at the TD Banknorth Garden with 11.1 seconds remaining in the third period for a 2-1 final score. Michael Ryder followed up a shot by Alexei Kovalev on a power play opportunity to break a 1-1 tie.

Jan Bulis opened the scoring for Montreal with a goal halfway through the first period, while Bostons 20 year-old Patrice Bergeron scored less than eight minutes later for the temporary equalizer. Jose Theodore made 29 saves for the Canadiens in the winning effort, while the Bruins Andrew Raycroft saved only 19 of 21 shots to take the loss.

As simple as the recap above might make the game sound, many of the new rules implemented for this season in the revamped leagues new Collective Bargaining Agreement played a major role in the outcome of the game. One new aspect is the stressed crackdown on holding, hooking, and obstruction penalties, which allows for more scoring opportunities and open ice.

As a result of the crackdown, a large number of penalties have been called so far this season, including 12 penalties in the Bruins-Canadiens match up. The most important penalty of all, however, was a hooking call on the Bruins Tom Fitzgerald at the end of the third period, which gave Montreal a power play and the game winner by Ryder.

Another rule change of significance is the abolition of the center-ice red line and, as a result, whistles for two-line passes. This new rule was added in order to increase scoring chances.

Goalies were also significant targets in the new CBA, as restrictions on the size of goalie leg pads, chest protectors, blockers, and gloves were put into place. Also, the area in which goalies are allowed to play the puck behind the net has been shrunk to a trapezoidal region behind the goal. If the goalie handles the puck in either corner behind the net outside of the trapezoid, he will be called for a two-minute penalty.

The NHL implemented the new shootout rule in hope that it will attract both old and new fans to watching the games. Before the recent lockout, NHL games would end in a tie if a five-minute overtime period following regulation was completed without a goal scored. In the new NHL, however, if the score is still tied after the overtime period, each team will choose three of their players to participate in a shootout to determine the winner. Whoever has the most goals after the six shots wins the game and earns two points in the standings for the victory. Any team that loses in overtime or a shootout earns one point in the standings, and earns no points for a loss in regulation.

Other changes include the new tag-up rule (which allows players who entered the offensive zone before the puck did to return to the blue line and tag it so as to not be called offsides) and new scheduling focused on rivalries (eight games against each teams four division rivals, or 32 games total per team). The NHL hopes to compete with the other three major sports in the U.S. as a result of the new rules, but only time will tell.

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