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Hockey FAQ’s; Answers To The Questions You Wanted To Know About

Here at we take pride in educating fans that are new to hockey on some of the nuances of the game. We spent much of the Summer teaching you about advanced stats, we recently explained the importance of forechecking and why Vegas is so good at it, and we broke down an odd-rule that caused the Golden Knights to have to send an extra player to the box to serve someone else’s penalty.

Well, our good friend Jerry suggested we run an article helping people learn about certain parts of the game they are confused about but would otherwise be too embarrassed to ask the diehard hockey fan. We got a ton of questions submitted. Some of which we answered right there on Twitter, and the rest are answered here. If you have any more you would like for us to add, send them to us on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, or email

We put them in order from most basic to most in-depth.

How does the points system work in regards to the standings? Also, what is the ROW column in the standing?

The NHL scoring system allows for each team to get 0, 1, or 2 points in each game. If you win, you get 2. If you lose, you get 0. If the game goes to overtime or shootout, the winning team still gets 2, but the losing team earns 1 point. Overtime games are commonly referred to as “3-point games” because the winners get 2 and the losers get 1 for a total of 3. You’ll also hear the term “point streak” which refers to consecitive games earning at least one point, thus either winning or losing in overtime.

ROW is an acronym for “Regulation or Overtime Wins.” It’s the first tiebreaker (even before head-to-head) to determine seeding in the playoffs. Basically all it does is take away shootout wins from a teams total win count. If a team wins 50 games, but 25 of them were in shootout, they are not considered as good as the team who won 50 games all in regulation or overtime.

What’s the difference between a referee and a linesman, how do I know the difference, and why should I care when watching a game?

There are two of each that officiate each game. The referees have orange armbands on their jerseys, linesmen do not. Referees are in change of calling penalties and goals. Linesmen are in charge of offside, icing, other stoppages of play (hand-pass, high stick, etc), and conducting faceoffs (except the one to open the game). The reason you should care is that they each raise their arm for a different reason. When a referee raises his arm, a penalty has been called. When a linesman does, there is a potential stoppage of play coming if it is not waived off.

What are the different types of shots?

There are five different types of shots players take in hockey. The first is the most obvious one, the slap shot. It’s when a player brings his stick all the way back and slaps it on the ice before it connects with the puck. The slapshot produces the most power. The next most common shot in the wrist shot. A wrist shot is when a player is dragging the puck with their stick and quickly shoot it towards the goal. The next is a snap shot. This is kind of a hybrid of the slapshot and the wrist shot in that it’s a quick motion and the stick is slapped on the ice before release. Snap shots are meant to be quick and generate a lot of speed, where wrist shots are usually meant for accuracy and deceptiveness. The next one is the backhand. This just means any shot with the opposite curve of the stick. You see this a lot on breakaways and when a player gets in very close to the goal. It’s incredibly difficult to generate much power and accuracy, but sometimes getting the puck back to the forehand isn’t an option or would be too obvious to the goalie. The final shot is a one-timer. This is when the puck is passed to a player and without stopping it he shoots it. The Golden Knights score a ton of goals on one timers. (If you want to read more on the differences, click here)

What are terms like “crease,” “odd-man rush,” “the point,” “the slot,” “half-wall,” “pinch,” and “gap”?

These are all common terms you’ll hear during the broadcast of the game that help announcers quickly describe the action.

Crease – The blue painted semi-circle in front of the goal where the goalie stands. This is the goalie’s protected area. If a player and/or the goalie are in the crease, he cannot contact the goalie. If he does, goaltender interference will be called.

Odd-man rush – It’s when the attacking team has more players (usually 2-on-1 or 3-on-1) than the defensive team and thus a great goal scoring chance has been created. The Golden Knights are tremendous at creating odd-man rushes and they might be even better at scoring on them. They also work on them in practice a ton. It differs slightly from breakaway which is when an attacking player is in all alone on the goalie with all the defensemen behind him.

The Point – It’s the area near the blue line where defenseman stand and often take long shots looking for deflections. Colin Miller, Nate Schmidt, and Sea Theodore generate a ton of shots from the point. Here’s a picture to show exactly where it is on the ice. (Note: Some people describe the center “point” as the “high slot.” That’ll make more sense in the next term.)

The Slot – It’s the area right in front of the goal where most goals are scored in the NHL. If you draw two lines from goal posts to the blue line, this is the slot. Defenseman do everything in their power to keep players out of the slot and goalies have the most difficult time stopping clean shots from the slot.

Half-wall – This is a term commonly used to describe where the puck is on the ice for the radio and TV broadcasters. To be specific it’s the area along the boards where the rinks curve ends, just above the goal line to the end of the faceoff circle. The glass goes from very tall, to much shorter in this very spot and in a normal NHL rink, the net ends at this point. Wingers often begin their play in this area and there are commonly board battles there. Think back to the Golden Knights game winner against Tampa Bay, that began with an extended board battle on the half-wall. (I was asked for the origin of the term. I couldn’t find anything specific but it appears it’s mainly used because the glass is shorter there than behind the goal. Plus, it’s kind of a difficult place to describe on the ice, so they likely just came up with a term and ran with it.)

Pinch – The word pinch is almost always used for defensemen who are standing at the blue line and have to decide whether or not to go get a loose puck or not. When they abandon their spot on the blue line to “pinch in” or “pinch down” to get the puck, they can maintain possesion for their own team, but risk not getting to the puck first and giving up a breakaway or odd-man rush.

Gap – Another term used for defensemen, it’s the distance between a defenseman and the player skating with the puck into the offensive zone. A “perfect gap” for a defenseman is within one stick length of the player carrying the puck, thus he is able to reach out and knock the puck away when the time is right. A “bad gap” is when the defenseman allows the forward a ton of space to carry the puck in beyond the blue line. Watch Nate Schmidt, his “gap control” is usually very good.

Can you explain how +/- is scored and why sometimes it doesn’t count for players?

Plus/Minus which is also described as “rating” is scored for every player on the ice when an even-strength or shorthanded goal is scored. If you are on the ice when your team scores, you get +1. If you are on the ice when your team allows a goal, that’s -1. It is supposed to show how effective the team is playing when you are on the ice. There are fallacies to it though which is why many people hate the stat. (Note: +/- is not scored for power play goals.)

Can you explain TV timeouts? When do they take them and what postpones them?

TV timeouts occur at the first stoppage of play 6, 10, and 14 minutes into each period. They are commonly referred to as the “under 14,” “under 10,” and “under 6” timeouts which is referring to the amount of time left on the clock. TV timeouts are delayed until the next stoppage if a goal has been scored or an icing is called. TV timeouts last two minutes.

What can and cannot be challenged?

There are only two things that can be challenged by a coach in the NHL. The first is goaltender interference. If a coach believes his goalie was interfered with, he can challenge the play. If he’s right, the goal is disallowed. If he’s wrong, the time forfeits their time out. If a team does not have a timeout (meaning they lost a challenge or they used the timeout already) they cannot challenge for goaltender interference. The other is offside. If a coach believes a player entered the zone before the puck crossed the blue line, he can challenge for offside. If he’s right, the goal is disallowed. If he’s wrong, a two-minute delay of game penalty is assessed. There is no limit to the number of offside challenges a coach can initiate in a game.

Only the referees can decide if they would like to review a play to see if the puck crossed the goal line. Coaches can ask, but it’s up to the refs to make the decision. (Usually, if a coach asks, they’ll do it).

What is taken into consideration when a bench minor is taken and the team gets to choose who goes into the box?

There are normally two factors that are considered when deciding who will serve a penalty. First, the team will never choose a player that is part of their penalty kill unit. That player is needed to help kill of the penalty, so you can’t have him sitting in the box. The second is choosing a player that can be dangerous when he is let out of the box. Players like David Perron or Jonathan Marchessault come to mind. Neither kill penalties and both are great scorers. They weren’t going to be put on the ice during the two-minute penalty and when it is up and they are let out, both instantly give the Golden Knights a chance to score.

Can you explain where players go after they are drafted, why, and when they can come to the NHL?

Players are drafted to the NHL at the age of 18. While the AHL and ECHL allow for players who are 18 or older to play, most teams opt to send their players back to their Canadian Junior, international (see Erik Brannstrom in Sweden), USHL, or NCAA team. Players are eligible to come to the NHL directly after being drafted, but are often not considered physically ready to play in the big league. The standard timeline on a player being drafted in the first couple of rounds is about two to three years before they break into the NHL.

The interesting part about players drafted is their contracts. Rookies sign what is called an “Entry Level Contract” which has minimums and maximums based on the CBA. They mostly all come with a signing bonus so the player gets a check at that very moment, but their three year entry level deal does not technically kick in until they’ve played a total of 10 games at the NHL level. So, while Cody Glass, Nick Suzuki, Erik Brannstrom and even Dylan Ferguson have all signed contracts, none of them will begin receiving money until they’ve played their 10th NHL game. This is until year three of the contract, when it is guaranteed no matter what.

How do trades work, especially things like pending UFAs, draft picks, and retained salary?

Trades in the NHL have just a few restrictions. Both teams must remain under the salary cap and neither team can go beyond the NHL’s roster limits. Draft picks can be traded just like players, as can players who have been drafted but remain in juniors, overseas, or the minor leagues. Pending UFAs means a player whose contract expires at the end of the year. They are often popular trade candidates because teams are not 100% guaranteed they will be able to keep the player when the season ends. UFAs officially hit the open market on July 1st of every year, however, before that the only team that can negotiate a contract with that player is his current team. So, often times after teams are eliminated from the playoffs, they will trade the “negotiating rights” to another team. This is done when the current team knows they will not be re-signing the player, and another team wants to get a jump on everyone else before July 1st. The team losing the player gets something in return rather than losing him for nothing, and the new team gets a guarantee they can sign the player before any other team was even able to negotiate with him.

One of the challenges in making trades is making sure both teams remain under the salary cap. Therefore, the NHL allows teams to “retain” up to 50% of a players contract during a trade. So, if a player has a $5 million cap hit, and 50% of his salary is retained, the new team’s cap goes up $2.5 million while the old team keeps $2.5 million on their cap. The Golden Knights retained $1 million in salary in the trade of Alexei Emelin to the Nashville Predators. (Teams can only retain salary for a total of three players per season)

Can you break down how players know when to get on and off the ice for line changes and who tells them which line goes when?

First of all, the most important aspect to “making a change” or substituting players in hockey is to do it safely. No player ever wants to exit the ice when the puck is in a position where the other team can score. The average shift in the NHL is about 45 seconds (slightly longer for defesnsemen). This is not an exact science in the least. Players have to intuitively know when they’ve been out there long enough and get back to the bench at a time when the puck is in a safe position for them to change. The head coach normally decides which forward lines will go out on the ice next and an assistant (Ryan McGill for VGK) will decide for the defenseman. The Golden Knights pretty much just go directly in order rotating each line or pairing equally, but there are times where they will skip a forward line to get Neal, Haula, and Perron or Marchessault, Karlsson, and Smith back out there more often. There is so much more to this than just this short answer, we may take a bit more time on this for a future article.

How do linesman decide who gets tossed out of faceoffs?

There are a ton of rules that go into properly conducting a faceoff, most of which had been ignored for the past 99 years in the NHL. However, this offseason the league decided they wanted to crack down on faceoff violations. So, let’s break it down.

First off all you have to understand the lines on the ice. (Here’s a picture) There are two brackets on each side of the dot which are barriers for the players skates. Each players skate must stay behind the horizontal line and outside of the vertical lines. They cannot cross those lines until the puck is dropped. Next, it comes down to procedure. The linesman blows his whistle to let the centers know they have five seconds to put their stick down on the ice. When both sticks are on the ice the linesman drops the puck. However, if one center’s feet go across the line, if they lean too far over the center dot, if they make physical contact with the other player or the linesman, if they lift their stick early, or if they turn their stick too quickly, the offending center is thrown out.

If two players from the same team are thrown out of the faceoff circle in the same draw, a delay of game penalty is assessed.

Does every arena follow the same rules about laying the ice?

This was one I was stumped on, so we went directly to the source, George Salami, the guy who is in charge of laying the ice at T-Mobile Arena. Here’s what he said.

Every icemaker has a certain way he does things. How many layers to lay, how much water he builds, the temperature of the water, etc. There are regulations and standards in the process but each icemaker has his own style. -George Salami

Thus, certain arenas have faster ice and others have slower ice. Salami is scheduled to be on the podcast soon, so we’ll have to table this one til then.

Can you explain interference? Isn’t it interference pretty much every time a player skates past another one?

Here’s the official rule.

A minor penalty shall be imposed on a player who interferes with or impedes the progress of an opponent who is not in possession of the puck. A “pick” is the action of a player who checks an opponent who is not in possession of the puck and is unaware of the impending check/hit. -NHL Rulebook

To answer the question, yeah it pretty much is interference any time someone hits a guy that doesn’t have the puck, however, the NHL allows for a ton of discretion to be taken into account by the referees. The key is that a player is purposely impeding the progress of another player. The most common time you see it is when an offensive player dumps the puck beyond a defenseman and he purposly stays in the way. They have a bit of leniency to do this, but if it lasts too long they ref will raise his hand and call a penalty. There’s very little leniency when you interfere with a guy who does not have the puck and didn’t just have it. Basically, if it looks like an egregious interference penalty, it probably is, if it looks like it could slide, they’ll let it go.

Same with boarding, isn’t that a penalty on every hit?

Yeah, technically most hits are boarding, but again it comes down to discretion. There’s about a second after a player releases the puck or gathers the puck that they are free game to be hit. Again, if it’s egregious, it’ll be called, if it’s not, they’ll let it go.

What is the heck is Corsi and why should I care when people talk about it?

Corsi is a statistic that describes all shot attempts, regardless if they are on goal or not. Thus, blocked shots and missed shots count in Corsi. What Corsi is attempting to measure is meaningful puck possession. If your team is attempting a lot of shots while you are on the ice, that means you have possession more often than not. That’s the short answer, here’s the long answer.

Why do sometimes they play 4-on-4 after coincidental penalties and why do others they play 5 on 5?

The short answer is, when there are coincidental minors that directly offset, they put both guys in the box and they play 4-on-4. When there are coincidental majors (usually fighting) they put both guys in for five minutes and they resume at 5-on-5. It gets a little sticky when there are extra penalties being handed out or when one team is already shorthanded. There’s a chart that describes 32 examples of how they determine how the game should be played following penalties. It’s insanely convoluted and the best thing to do is just wait until it happens and then read the rules (or come to and figure out why it happened they way it did. (Here’s one of our explanations of one that happened earlier in the year)

When is the right time/location for a defensive player to “pinch” down into the offensive zone?

This is heavily dependant on what type of defenseman we are talking about. There’s a massive difference between how much a guy like Colin Miller or Nate Schmidt should pinch compared to Deryk Engelland or Brayden McNabb. The number one determinant of whether or not to pinch down into the zone to pick up a puck is whether or not you can get there, the second is when you do get there, can you do anything with it. Offensive-minded defensemen like Miller, Schmidt and Shea Theodore are more willing to pinch down to pick up the puck because they are more dangerous when they get it, plus, they are normally paired with a “stay at home” defenseman who can cover for them if they are beaten to the puck. It really takes a lot of feel for the game, the position, and the situation to correctly determine whether or not to take the risk to maintain possession in the offensive zone. A bad pinch will basically guarantee an odd-man rush the other way. You’ll notice defenseman are much more willing to pinch in to pick up the puck when the team is behind rather than protecting a lead. It’s all about risk management.

Anything we didn’t cover that you think we should have? Email your question and we’ll either add it here or put it in the next edition.


The Unfortunate Part Of The Winning Streak




  1. Lara

    Minor note on the faceoff question – the rules hadn’t necessarily been ignored before this year. Linesmen have always tossed guys out of the circle ad nauseam. The rule change to add the penalty was, I’m guessing, to cut down on the number of times that happened and keep the game moving. (I still think there’s too much tossing, though. Some linesmen have a real power trip going on.)

  2. Brian Lawrence

    Great article!

  3. Really really appreciate all you guys! This article was again, much needed for a new hockey fan. Finally learned what corsi means 😉

  4. John Matheson

    Very helpful stuff here. Should be required reading for every fan entering T-mobile!

  5. Yawn

    Awesome stuff guys! Keep it up!

  6. Stephanie

    Hello. I’m writing a novel that includes a hockey player. I haven’t had much exposure to hockey and have done a lot of searching online. Could you answer these specifics and tell me if these make sense?

    1) The year is 1999. An 18 yr old (birthday Sep 20th) that was a senior in high school had a scholarship to play NCAA hockey at Michigan State. He’s one of the most popular defencemen in the nation for high school and he’s being told that the OHL is a better option for him to make it to the NHL. He had been considered for the OHL before but had decided to stay at his prep school. He decides to go to the OHL (Erie Otters) for the 1999-2000 season following graduation, but he finds out on June 26th that he was a third round NHL draft pick for Pittsburgh Penguins. He goes to prospect development camp and then gets told he’s being sent back to the OHL (which he technically hasn’t been there yet) to develop. Does this all make sense it what would actually happen? Does it make sense that a player of built size and talent who made a 3rd round draft pick—be sent back to the Canadian juniors? Is it really conceivable that he would go to the OHL instead of playing NCAA hockey? The college part is not tangent—I’m writing him as a player who has a real shot at the NHL. Do players ever break their NCAA intent of playing to go to the OHL?

    2) Can you tell me the differences between development prospect camp and training camp? I am reading that development camp may be in the summer right after the draft and that actual training camp may be in September? Just want to make sure my timelines are right—-this is 1999

    3) Would it make sense that my largely talented player who got drafted in 1999, but sent to OHL, makes it to the NHL for the 2001 season? Even if he is a great talent and asset, would it make sense if the Penguins trade him to the Sharks by 2005? He wouldn’t be a UFA by this point would he? I wanted to make sure he could still be traded by this point—if so, do teams do this for players they like? If they can get two or more players in return?

    4) Do players who may be a “headcase” have “sitters” like other professional teams do? To go with them to bars, etc. to make sure they behave?

    Thank you so much! Any information would be super helpful.

    • 1) Yes, that absolutely sounds like a path he might take. Check out this article on VGK prospect Paul Cotter, his story is interesting.

      2) Development Camp is right after the draft. Almost all prospects come to Dev Camp. Rookie Training Camp begins about a week or so before full training camp. Usually only players scheduled to go to Canadian Juniors, the AHL, or the ECHL come to rookie camp. They are sent out as camp progresses with the best ones normally staying close to the end of full training camp.

      3) He could absolutely make it by 2001 but he’s got to be really good. Normally he would spend a year or two in the AHL. Could absolutely be traded at any point depending on his talent level and the return the team would get back.

      4) I haven’t heard of much of this in the hockey landscape, but that’s because hockey players tend to be the best behaved of any athletes. The other players on the team would probably police each other before they would have a “sitter.”

  7. gary

    Question: What is the rules when a game goes to the 3 on 3 5 min. overtime, and a penalty is called on 1 of the teams. I know that the offended time gets to add a 4th player, for a 4 on 3. But what happens if no one scores during that penalty, and there is still time left in the 5 min. overtime. Does the team that had the 4 on 3 advantage then have to go back to 3 players, or does the penalised team get to add a 4th player to go back to equal strength for the remainder of the overtime period ?

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