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The object of the game of hockey is to score more goals than the opposing team. Goaltenders and defencemen are concerned primarily with keeping the other team from scoring a goal, while forwards are primarily concerned with scoring goals on the other team. Forwards, of course, have to be defensively responsible and defencemen also need to press offensively.
For a goal to be scored, the puck must entirely cross the goal line between the posts and under the crossbar of the goal frame. A goal does not count if it is sent into the goal from a stick raised above the height of the crossbar. A goal also does not count if it is kicked or thrown into the goal. A goal that is accidentally redirected off a player does count, but if it enters the net directly after touching an official, it does not count. If the goalie is impeded from preventing the goal by an attacking player, the goal does not count. A goal can also be disallowed if the scoring team had too many men on ice at the time of the goal or if it was scored with a broken stick.
In many leagues, a goal does not count if a player from the attacking team has a skate or stick in the goal crease before the puck. The NHL abolished this rule after the disputed triple-overtime goal in the 1999 Stanley Cup Finals. Brett Hull of the Dallas Stars scored the series-clinching goal against the Buffalo Sabres. On video replay, it was clear that Hull's skate was in the crease prior to the puck. The NHL justified the goal by saying that because Hull scored on his own rebound, he maintained possession and control of the puck throughout; thus, he was allowed to be in the crease.
The goal judge is an official positioned off ice behind each goal for the specific purpose of indicating when the puck has crossed the goal line and entered the goal. For arenas so equipped, the goal judge turns on a red light behind the goal when he sees the puck cross the goal line. As in all matters, however, the referee retains final authority and can override the opinion of the goal judge.
If a hockey player is last to touch the puck before it enters his own team's net — which in football (soccer) is called an own goal — credit for the goal goes to the last player on the scoring team to have touched the puck.
The number of goals scored is a closely watched statistic. Each year the Rocket Richard Trophy is presented to the NHL player to have scored the most goals. The trophy is named after Maurice Richard, the first player to score 50 goals in a season, at a time when the NHL regular season was only 50 games (compared to 82 today). The player to have scored the most goals in an NHL season is Wayne Gretzky. Gretzky is also the fastest to 50 goals; during his record-setting 1981-82 season, in which he finished with 92 goals, he scored his 50th goal in the Edmonton Oilers' 39th game of the season.
The overall amount of goal scoring is also closely watched. In recent years, goal scoring has decreased. Many believe the game is less entertaining because of this, and blame the change on the increasing size of goaltending equipment and the advent of defensive systems such as the neutral zone trap. Fans of defensive hockey counter by saying the high scoring of the 1980s was an anomaly, and this shift represents a return to the norm. For the 2004-05 American Hockey League season, four major rule changes were made that were intended to increase the scoring in games and make it more popular among casual fans -- (1) increasing the size of the attack zones by narrowing the neutral zone two feet each side and thus moving the goal line back two feet, (2) restrictions on the goaltender playing the puck, (3) permitting offside players to negate the penalty by "tagging up" with the blue line, and (4) changing the offside rule by permitting passes which cross the center line and one blue line (but not between both blue lines in certain restrictions). The AHL rules were slightly modified and adopted in the NHL and ECHL for 2005-06, when the NHL returned after the lockout.
There are a number of different types of goals for which separate statistics are kept, but all count equally:
- An even strength goal is a goal scored when both teams have the same number of players on the ice
- A power play goal is a goal scored by a team on a power play, that is, with a numerical advantage in players due to a penalty being served by one or more of the other team's players
- A shorthanded goal is a goal scored by a team that is on the penalty kill, that is, at a numerical disadvantage due to a penalty being served by one or more of its players
- An empty net goal is a goal scored when there is no goalie guarding the net because he has been pulled for an extra attacker
- A penalty shot goal is a goal scored on a penalty shot, that is, a one-on-one confrontation between a single offensive player and the goaltender as a result of a penalty
- An overtime goal is a goal scored in sudden-death overtime
- A go-ahead goal is the goal that puts one team ahead of another after the game has been tied
- A game-tying goal is a goal that causes the game to be tied, scored by a team that is down one goal (prior to the 1984-85 season, the NHL credited game-tying goals to the final scorers for both teams in tie games).
- A game-winning goal (GWG) is the goal scored by a team that defeats a team which scores goals; e.g. if team A beats team B 2-1, the scorer of team A's second goal is credited with the GWG, if team A beats team B 4-2, the scorer of team A's third goal is credited with the game-winner.
Other phrases include a garbage goal, for a goal scored more as the result of luck or opportunism than skill, and a breakaway goal for a goal scored when a player has gotten behind the defenders to face the goaltender alone.
A quinella occurs when a player scores an even strength goal, a power play goal, a shorthanded goal, a penalty shot goal, and an empty net goal. Mario Lemieux scored the only quinella in NHL history against the New Jersey Devils. This is often referred to as "five goals, five different ways."
The two teammates of the scorer who last touched the puck before him, provided that no opponent touched it in between, are each credited with an assist. Assists and goals count equally to comprise a player's statistical scoring total.
Ice hockey is one of the few sports that institutes a goal horn. This is especially true in the NHL, where a goal horn, usually a loud air horn or train horn, is blared almost in every venue after the home team scores.
- NHL Rulebook, Rule #57 - Goals and Assists