Understanding NHL Rules

NHL rules can be difficult to grasp for newcomers to hockey or fans who have been away from the league for a while. The NHL instituted major rule changes during the NHL lockout of 2004-05 that were designed to give the game a faster pace with a higher scoring percentage. Though the NHL's rules are largely similar to the rules of other hockey leagues, there are some important differences.

The Lines
There are a lot of lines on a hockey rink, and each one means something in particular. Let's start with the blue lines, which determine a lot of the action. The two blue lines divide the ice into three zones: the attacking zone, the neutral zone and the defensive zone. The defensive zone is the side of the ice where your team has its goalie; the attacking zone is the side where the opposing goalie has set up. The middle zone is the neutral zone.

When a team moves into its attacking zone, it cannot cross the blue line in front of the puck. Doing so will result in an offside call. If the defending team successfully repels the puck from its defensive zone into the neutral zone, each player on the attacking team must return to the neutral zone before he can touch the puck again in the attacking zone. The two-line pass, which used to be prohibited by the NHL, is now allowed.

There are three red lines on the ice: one at center ice and two on either side of the ice called "goallines."If a player passes the puck from behind the center line and it does not touch another player  before crossing the goalline in the player's attacking zone, then an icing call is possible. Unlike other leagues, an icing call in the NHL will only be made if a defending player other than the goalie touches the puck after it crosses the red line and before an attacking player can touch it. Once an icing call has been made, the puck returns to the faceoff circle in the offending team's defensive zone. According to the new rules, the team that has iced the puck cannot make a line change before the ensuing faceoff.

There are a lot of penalties on the hockey rule book, but they are each designed with one thing in mind: protecting the players and keeping the game moving. If a player commits a penalty, he will be sent to the penalty box, and the opposing team will be put at a man advantage. This is called the "power play." The power play ends when the time allotted for the penalty has elapsed or the team on the power play scores a goal, whichever comes first. If players commit offsetting penalties, for example, if two players get into a fight, then the players are sent to the penalty box but both teams continue the game at full strength. Fighting, by the way, carries a major penalty-five minutes in the box. In other leagues it means expulsion from the game.

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