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It's hard to be a Goalie

 

With the popularity of the NHL in question, the eye of blame has scanned over every area of the game: The schedule, the ice conditions, the lack of television exposure, the instigator rule, the players’ uniforms, and finally, the job specifics and function of the goaltender.

In the new NHL, no one has it harder than the goalie.

Some of the rules goalies face today make perfect sense. Can you imagine a modern day Jacque Plante having to give any explanation, at all, as to why he wants to wear a goalie mask? And if players were allowed to trip, shove, or crash into goalies without consequence, would any keepers stick around for an entire season…much less avoid injury?

Most of the other rules in the post-lockout NHL make perfect sense too. The game is faster now with a focus on offensive strategy and the need for a strong defense. For the goalie, the new rules present one main problem: They all focus on increased scoring.

It seems that great saves are no longer exciting.



From the two-line pass to narrowing the neutral zone, it was clear what the higher-ups had in mind when they revised the rulebook. They wanted scoring. They wanted an offensive game with a highlight reel full of goals…

…And unintentionally (or perhaps intentionally, who knows) they wanted goalies to push and scrape for every save and every win. Goalies are now supposed to defend their crease and fight off pushy forwards…to shut down odd man rushes and stuff incredible breakaway chances.

Apparently, someone thought goalies weren’t already doing this game after game.

The keeper is the last line of defense before those telling red goal lights flicker on…and he knows it. When someone scores, all eyes are on the goalie and the goalies’ eyes are either raised to the ceiling or practically glued to the ice. Sure his defensemen may have let him down, but keeping pucks from crossing the goal line is his job, right? And when too many pucks cross that goal line, it’s the goalie who suffers the embarrassment of skating to the bench and watching his alternate finish where he left off.

Don’t get me wrong; goalies can have bad games that give cause for scrutiny. As a Denver native and Colorado Avalanche fan since sixth grade, I watched Game 7 of the 2002 Western Conference Finals wanting to believe Patrick Roy had been replaced by some minor league’s third string. But teams can have bad games too…and that image is usually most strongly reflected upon the goaltender. His stats suffer, miserably. The highlight reel of the game consists of goal after goal for the other team, all put in on him. He gets the loss and he may not get the next start.

It’s hard to be a goalie.

Much of a goalies’ game depends on his athleticism and speed. Goalies catch pucks traveling 90 miles per hour before half the team realizes their opponent has taken a shot. Every game, goalies scramble, twist, and turn to keep pucks out of their net. They fight off players crashing the crease, they read well-built plays and shut them down, they stop goals and help their entire team by defending the net. Sometimes they make amazing saves that leaves the audience absolutely mystified. What more could anyone possibly ask for?

The answer: More goals.

 

 

The tasks of the keeper don’t seem to be enough for the NHL, who has depleted the presence of the goalie by stealing inches from his uniform and restricting his movement. As if changing the rules to create a more offensive game didn’t challenge goaltenders enough, the new NHL stole the goalies’ size and ability to handle the puck. Goalies in the NHL are now restricted to a trapezoid if they want to touch the puck behind the net and their leg pads, blockers, catching gloves, and jerseys have all shrunk. With rumors of increasing net size, one has to wonder if another goalie will ever have a season GAA below 2.00 again.

A high scoring game is interesting, but so are amazing saves. If the NHL focuses too much on scoring at the expense of the rules surrounding a goaltender, what does that say about the value of the goaltender in the first place? And what does that say about the men trying to score on him? They can’t do it unless there is a smaller goalie or a larger net?

No decisions regarding goalie rules and regulations have been made for the coming years and it’s hard to say which direction the tides will turn. All that can be said with certainty is that, in the new NHL, it’s hard to be the goalie.

 

By Shaela Moen
ProHockey-fans.com Staff Writer

 

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