Before the men's Olympic hockey tournament begins, lets make sure we understand the tournament format and key rule differences between the Olympics and the NHL.
Each team will play three games in the preliminary round to determine seeding for the next round. Three points are awarded for a regulation win, two points for an overtime/shootout win, one point for an overtime/shootout loss, and no points for a regulation defeat.
Four teams then will get a bye through the first playoff round: The best record in each of the three groups, as well as the best second-place team.
The eight teams without a bye will face each other in single elimination. Then the four teams with byes and the four winners of the initial playoff rounds will be seeded in four quarterfinal match-ups. Every game from that point on is a single-elimination playoff with three consecutive victories necessary to win the gold medal.
Okay, now that we have that taken care of, let's look at some key rule changes NHL fans (and players) will have to adjust to.
This is the most talked about difference between the NHL and international game. While every NHL rink is a standard 200 feet long by 85 feet wide, both arenas in Sochi are 60m by 30m, or in other words approximately 197 feet long and 98.5 feet wide.
Also of note is the placement of the net. In the NHL the net is 11 feet from the end boards, while in international hockey they are 13 feet out. That extra room could change offensive and defensive strategies when the puck is behind the net.
Much less talked about is the set up of the corners. Unlike NHL rinks apparently both rinks in Sochi feature deep corners which, as Pierre Lebrun described them, are almost square. That artificially creates more room in each zone.
OT and Shootout
All Olympic overtime features 4 on 4 hockey. Tied preliminary games have 5 minute OTs. With the exception of the gold medal game, all playoff games feature a 10 minute overtime, while a tied gold medal game would have a full 20 minute overtime.
If any game remains tied following overtime, the game is decided by the dreaded shootout. Each team selects three shooters initially. If the game remains deadlocked, the teams engage in one vs one shootout elimination and any one player can shoot any number of times.
Coaches will have two extra players on the bench from which he can choose from. NHL teams dress 18 skaters and 2 goaltenders, but international games allow for 20 skaters and 2 goaltenders. Most teams will dress 13 forwards and 7 defensemen. That leaves two healthy scratches plus the third goaltender left to watch the game from the stands. Only the goaltender will be allowed to dress mid-game in an emergency injury situation.
TV Time Outs
Unlike the NHL there will be no "TV time outs" for broadcast commercials. Both teams are entitled to one 30 second time out at any stoppage of play, just like in the NHL
Unlike the NHL, goalies in international hockey can stickhandle the puck anywhere on the ice.
Goalie equipment size
I do not have specific measurements, but the limits on size of goalie leg pads, blockers, gloves and shoulder pads are much more liberal in Sochi. It will be interesting to see if any NHL goalie will take advantage of bigger equipment or will they all stay with their more familiar gear.Icing
International hockey uses no touch icing at all times. There is no NHL style "hybrid" icing.
In international hockey any contact to an opponent's head is subject to either a) a 2 minute minor penalty and automatic 10 minute misconduct or b) a 5 minute major penalty and game misconduct.
Any player who loses his helmet must immediately leave the ice. If he gets involved with the play in any way he will be called for a two minute minor penalty.
The referee will blow the play dead whenever a puck strikes the goaltender in the mask
Should a penalty shot be called in the Olympics, the obstructed player does not necessarily half to take the penalty shot. The coach may choose anny player who was on the ice at the time of the infraction to take the shot.
International referees will stop play if any offensive player is standing in the crease regardless if he is interfering with the goalie or not. Such a violation is not a penalty, but the ensuing faceoff is moved to the neutral zone.
Of course, fighting is not welcomed in the international game. Any player who does engage in a fight is assessed a match penalty and kicked out of the game.
In international hockey the offensive center must always put their stick down first. In the NHL it is the visiting player who must always do so. The officials are supposed to use a "hurry-up" faceoff initiative of 15 seconds and then he will drop the puck whether one or both of the players are ready or not.