NHL Primer for My NBA Buds – Part 1: Funny Words

Here I come to save the day! Me, not them. These guys aren't here for you. I am.

This post is not for you. It’s for my dear friends who would live, breathe and die for the NBA. I’m here for you, and I’m going to try to help you through this truly difficult time.

Welp, as the upcoming NBA season is looking more and more bleak, NBA fans are trying to find ways to stay occupied in the meantime. I should know, you are all die-hard ballers and love the association.

I already wrote a post about how this lockout makes no sense, and how I couldn’t care less about the resolution, if there is one, which seems unlikely at this point after the players are disclaiming the union. And thus they responded with what any good, upstanding, true American would resort to saying: “I’m gonna sue.” Ahh the American way. The only way.

Like all pompous hockey snobs, I am adamant, if not redundant about trying to convert you to the sport. But I know, I know, it’s hard to “jump” into it without knowing the basics. And to most of you, being from sunny California and all, hockey is about as foreign of a sport as curling or cricket or bocce ball. But I’m a California girl just as much as Katy Perry is, and I was able to pick up on it rather quickly. Granted, it certainly didn’t hurt that the Sharks have been an elite team for a while now, so it was easy for me to become enthralled.

I grew up with the NBA, but then grew to love the NHL. So in an effort to spread the love of hockey everywhere, I’ve put together a very rudimentary NHL primer for my deprived NBA buds. This is a 2-parter, people. Lots of hard work was put into this topic, I tell ya. Oh, the things I do for my friends.

This first post explains some common terms that may sound confusing when listening to a hockey broadcast and/or reading articles. Tomorrow’s post will be about NBA/NHL counterparts because there’s a lot of them.

Common terms you may misunderstand (because I did at first):

Points (for Players): The combination of goals and assists for a particular player. Note — unlike basketball, an assist is not nearly as qualitative. An assist simply means the last 1 or 2 players to touch the puck before the goal scorer.

Points (for Teams): Because there are no ties, the NHL ranks teams in standings based on points.

A win in regulation, overtime or the shootout is 2 points.

A loss in regulation is 0 points, and a loss in overtime or the shootout is 1 point.

In other words, if two teams are tied at the end of regulation, both teams get 1 point, and they play through a 5-minute overtime with the winner gaining an extra point. If it’s still tied at the end of overtime, they go to a 3-round shootout until someone breaks the tie. Winner gets the extra point.

Why is this important? So you don’t get confused by that third number listed next to teams in the standings. The third number is an overtime loss or OTL.

Overtime Rules: During the regular season, if two teams are tied, the game goes to a 5 minute, 4-on-4 overtime (opposed to 5-on-5). If it’s still tied after 5 minutes, it goes to a shootout, which most casual fans can get on board with, but ends up being a huge let down after really good games. During the playoffs, you need not worry. There’s no shootout, and it’s a full 5-on-5. Overtime happens until someone scores, all the while causing blood to rise and inducing heart attacks for fans watching the game.

Icing: There are three red lines on the rink — the center line and one line behind each of the goalies. When the puck crosses over TWO red lines without being touched, it’s icing and results in a face-off in the defensive zone it came from.

Shows the center line and one red line by the goalie. "A" (blue to red) is not icing. "B" is.

And then to negate the icing, there’s this whole big race for the puck, which is exciting but quite dangerous. I won’t confuse you. I’ll keep it simple. Just look for the puck crossing two red lines without being touched. Oh and there’s no icing when a team is on the PK — whoa there cowboy, I have no idea what you just said (see below).

Offside: There are two bluelines on the rink, one on each side of the center line. If the puck is in the neutral or defensive zone, an offensive player (the team with the puck) cannot be past the blueline of (and/or enter) the zone they’re trying to score in. Once the puck crosses the blueline, they can then enter the zone. It sounds confusing when you read it, but just watch the game, and it’ll start to make sense. This prevents cherry-picking.

Power Play (or PP): When a team has a man-advantage due to a penalty. The most common PP will last 2:00 minutes, but it can also be either 4:00 or 5:00 minutes, depending on the severity of the penalty. Here’s the fun part – if there’s any blood from the penalty, yes, any little sign of blood, it’s a double minor (4:00 mins). Typically it’s 5-on-4, but there are times when it’s 5-on-3. And if it’s 5-on-3, you’re expected to score. Unless you’re offensively challenged. Or unless something amazing like this happens.

Penalty Kill (or PK): When a team has a man-disadvantage due to a penalty. This sucks, and the Sharks currently suck at it. This can also be referred to as a team being shorthanded, which is self-explanatory.

Forwards (F): Unlike basketball, there’s no distinction between a forward and a wing (the 2-guard, at least). A forward is any wing or center position. There’s a right wing (RW), left wing (LW), and center (C). You’ll hear some players referred to as a “Power Forward”, which basically means the same thing as it does in basketball (big physical brutes, with grit and can score). Ryane Clowe of the Sharks and Milan Lucic of the Bruins are examples. The center is like the point guard, responsible for setting up their wings by making juicy passes for a score.

On a typical night, a team rolls 4 forward lines (12 players; 3 forwards per line).

Defenseman (D): Another name for them is blueliners because they are usually positioned at the blueline. As in their name, they play defense. Their main goal is to stop the other team from scoring, although they do occasionally score, too, which is nice. The Nashville Predators’ Shea Weber is really good at this (unfortunately, his team is offensively anemic). So is the Washington Capitals’ Mike Green (unfortunately, he can’t stay healthy. Poor guy cause he’s awesome). There’s some good relevant hockey knowledge to drop when you’re around hockey geeks.

On a typical night, a team rolls 3 defense lines/pairings (6 players; 2 defenseman per line).


So there you have it. A quick, simple overview of some of the terms you may not understand. Hopefully, when you watch a game now, it starts to make more sense. In fact, watch the the Sharks vs Red Wings tonight, and see how much you’ve learned from Professor Jenna.

Stay tuned for part 2 tomorrow, where I list a bunch of NHL players and teams with their NBA counterpart, so you understand better who they are. It’ll be a fun time, I promise. Who knows? Hopefully after all this, you’ll quit moping about missing the NBA.

Remember, I’m here to help if you need me.

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