Penalty shot! There’s very little in hockey more exciting than when a penalty shot is awarded. A player gets hauled down, the ref’s arm goes up, and the next thing you know we’re one-on-one — a skater at center ice, a goalie waiting in the crease, and nothing in between them! And these days, you’re apt to see more than just an easy deke or a shot from the hash marks.

What Is a Penalty Shot?

Rule 24.1 of the official NHL rule book defines a penalty shot as “designed to restore a scoring opportunity which was lost as a result of a foul being committed by the offending team.” Basically, if you have a clear scoring chance, and a player on the other team takes your legs out from under you or throws his stick at the puck to knock it off your blade, you get a free breakaway. Good deal.

What the Shooter Can and Can’t Do

Penalty shot rules are pretty lax. Rule 24.2 of the rulebook prohibits only a few specific actions. If you’re taking a penalty shot, the main thing to remember is that you always have to be moving forward toward the net with the puck. Any time the puck moves in the opposite direction of the goal, the play is whistled dead. So you can’t skate in circles in the offensive zone until the goalie gets dizzy and falls down watching you.

Speaking of circles, one of the specific prohibitions in penalty shots is the spin-o-rama. You can’t do a complete 360-degree turn with the puck and then shoot, because part of a 360-degree turn necessitates moving the puck in the opposite direction from the net. This is a relatively new rule, passed in 2014. Unfortunately, this means you won’t see another goal like this Steven Stamkos beauty from 2010.

One move that is specifically allowed is the lacrosse-style goal, where the player picks the puck up on his stick and whips it in — so long as his stick doesn’t go above his shoulders. Our research hasn’t found a successful attempt at the NHL level of this type of goal, although here’s Corey Perry trying it at the NHL Skills Competition in 2011.

What the Goalie Can and Can’t Do

Goalies have even more leeway than the player taking the shot. As long as the goalie is in the crease until the skater touches the puck, he can do whatever he wants. For example, he can skate out and dive at the puck anywhere between the goal line and center ice if he’s so inclined, not that it would be a very smart move.

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