According to NHL rules, various infractions during a breakaway that can lead to a penalty shot being awarded include: a goaltender deliberately dislodging a goal-post (delay of game), a defending player using a stick or any other part of his body to interfere with the attacking player (see ice hockey penalties: interference), a goaltender or other player throwing his stick to distract or hinder the attacking player, or any other foul committed against the attacking player from behind. In the Southern Professional Hockey League, since its inception in 2004, a penalty shot is automatically awarded for a minor penalty in the final two minutes of overtime.
Upon observing any of the above scenarios, an official will signal a penalty shot by raising his crossed arms above his head with his fists clenched, and then point to centre ice (as pictured above). A player is then picked to take the shot. This is usually (though not always) the player who was fouled on the preceding play. In some cases, the captain of the attacking team may pick a player from those on the ice at the time of the infraction. Only a goaltender or alternate goaltender may be selected to defend the penalty shot.
All players other than the selected shooter and the selected goaltender must move to either side of the ice surface in front of their respective benches.
If a penalty shot is awarded and the penalized team had pulled their goaltender in favour of an extra attacker, the goaltender is allowed to return to the ice before the shot is taken.
The goaltender must remain in the crease until the attacking player has gained possession of the puck. After this point he may move out of the crease to gain a better defending position. If the goaltender exits the crease prior to the attacker touching the puck, the official allows the play to continue. If a goal is scored, it stands. If the penalty shot is unsuccessful, the puck is returned to centre ice and the shot is re-taken.
During the attempt, the shooter must move continuously towards the goal once the puck is touched. If at any point the official determines the shooter is stalling, the play is nullified. A goal may not be scored from a rebound off of the goalie, the goal itself or the end boards. Once the puck crosses the end line, the attempt is considered over, regardless of whether a shot was taken.
The goaltender may attempt to stop the shot using any means, except throwing his stick or any other object. Should the goaltender throw any object during the attempt, a goal is automatically awarded.
If the penalty shot is successful, the puck is placed at centre ice and play resumes as normal. If the shot is unsuccessful, the puck is placed at either of the faceoff positions in the zone where the play occurred, and play resumes. The time necessary to complete the penalty shot is not taken off of the game clock.
Most shooters attempt to out-deke the goalie in order to create a better scoring chance. Minnesota Wild forward Mikko Koivu and Tampa Bay Lightning forward Martin St. Louis are examples of players who commonly use this strategy. However, it is not uncommon for a shooter to simply shoot for an opening without deking. This is commonly referred to as sniping. This is most commonly performed when a goalie challenges a shooter by giving them an open hole (by keeping a glove, pad or stick out of position or being out of sound goaltending position all-together to tempt the shooter to aim for the given opening).
Very rarely a shooter may take a slapshot or wrist shot from the point or top of the slot. This is almost exclusively performed when a shooter either has a high level of confidence in their shot or they attempt to catch the goalie by surprise. Minnesota Wild forward Brian Rolston, Buffalo Sabres forward Thomas Vanek and Anaheim Ducks defenseman Chris Pronger have all used this strategy with success. In fact, Pronger succeeded in using this strategy in the 2006 Stanley Cup Finals against Carolina Hurricanes goaltender Cam Ward as a member of the Edmonton Oilers.
Players sometimes use the rarity of point-blank shots as a deking method. Sheldon Souray, owner of one of the hardest slapshots in the league, has succeeded by faking a slapshot and simply flipping the puck in. Sometimes a player will even fake a wrist shot by lifting their opposite leg (left leg for a right-handed shooter) or just by flicking their stick directly above the puck. Buffalo Sabres forward Thomas Vanek also uses this technique.
In the long history of Stanley Cup play, only 46 penalty shots have been called, and only ten in the Finals since the first one in 1937. The first eight resulted in no score. The first successful penalty shot in Stanley Cup Finals history occurred on June 5 2006, when Chris Pronger of the Edmonton Oilers beat Cam Ward of the Hurricanes, following an illegal covering of the puck by Carolina's Niclas Wallin. The most recent failed attempt occurred in the 2007 finals, when Antoine Vermette of the Ottawa Senators had his shot turned aside by Jean-Sébastien Giguère of the eventual champions Anaheim Ducks.