Basics of the Game
Here’s a crash course introducing the basics of the game, mostly taken from (but expanded quite a bit on) the San Jose Shark’s official website.
The game is divided up into three periods lasting 20 minutes each, with an intermission in between the first two periods (either 15:30 or 17:00 minutes long). At the conclusion of the third period, the team with the most goals wins the game. In the event of a tie at the end of regulation time during a regular-season game, the two teams will play a five-minute, four-on-four (one less skater on the ice than during normal play) sudden death overtime with the first team to score winning the contest. A new addition to the NHL that started in the 2005-06 season is the shootout, which occurs if neither team scores in overtime. The shootout will guarantee a winner at the end of each game. However, during the Stanley Cup Playoffs (see “Regular Season and Playoffs” below), the shootout is not used and overtime is slightly different. Playoff overtime is 5 on 5 for 20 min sudden-death periods untill one team scores and thus wins the game. If no one scores after the first 20 minutes of overtime, another OT period will start after an intermission. This repeats until a winning team is determined.
Each team dresses 20 players per game, with six players (five skaters and one goalie) from each team on the ice at one time.
The National Hockey League plays its game on an ice surface measuring 200 feet long by 85 feet wide with boards surrounding the rink to keep the puck in play and protect spectators.
TWO KEY RULES
Icing is an infraction called when a player shoots the puck from behind the center red line across the opponent’s goal line when both teams are at full strength or if the attacking team has the man advantage. Play is stopped when the puck crosses the goal line and is touched by an opposing player. The puck is brought back to the offending team’s end of the ice.
When an attacking player crosses the blue line and enters the attacking zone before the puck, it is referred to as offside. Play is stopped and a face off occurs just outside of the blue line. An attacking player who enters the offensive zone before the puck will not be considered offside if he returns to the blue line and makes skate contact with it (“tags up”).
See our common penalties page.
The center plays in the middle of the ice, between the left and right wings, and usually takes the faceoffs. On offense, they are relied upon to be the playmaker, setting up the wings and scoring goals of their own. On defense, their job is to help the defensemen near the net.
Right and left wings flank the center and patrol the ice along the sides. Their job is to create scoring opportunities and help maintain possession of the puck along the boards. On defense, the wings clog the passing lanes and cover the opposing team’s defensemen, preventing them from having a clear shot at the goalie.
The defenseman’s primary job is to protect the defending zone and prevent the other team from shooting on the goalie and scoring. On defense, they stay close to the net to clear the puck and move traffic away from the goalie. On offense, the defensemen hover near the blue line to keep the puck in the zone and provide shots from the blue line.
The goaltender’s main job is to prevent the puck from entering the net by any means necessary. Since they are facing pucks that are moving at speeds up to 100 mph, goaltenders wear extra equipment including leg pads, a catcher, a blocker, chest protector and full mask with face cage. They are also referred to as goalie, goalkeeper or netminder.
REGULAR SEASON AND PLAYOFFS
There are 30 teams in the NHL, split into two conferences-Eastern and Western-with three divisions within each conference and five teams within each division.
Regulation, overtime and shootout wins are all counted in the win (“W”) column and the winning team is awarded two points in the overall league standings. Regulation losses are counted in the loss (“L”) column and worth no points, while overtime and shootout losses are counted in the “OT” column and are worth one point.
At the end of the 82-game regular season, the top eight teams (as determine by who has the most points using the method described above) in each conference advance to the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The three division winners from each conference are given the top three seeds (playoff spots) ranked by total points, while the remaining five teams (also ranked by total points) round out the top eight. The No. 1 seed plays the No. 8 seed in the first round, No. 2 seed plays the No. 7 seed and so on.
The winner of the best-of-seven series advances to the next round where the remaining teams are re-seeded based on thier regular season records. The champions in each conference face off in the Stanley Cup Finals. The winner of the best-of-seven series is awarded the Stanley Cup and crowned NHL champions.