LOS ANGELES – If Columbus Blue Jackets goalie Sergei Bobrovsky is any indication, the new streamlined goalie pants that all NHL stoppers must adopt by Saturday will have virtually no effect on scoring.
Bobrovsky said he has been wearing the new pants since the beginning of December and really doesn’t notice the difference. And his play certainly hasn’t suffered. Since Dec. 1, Bobrovsky has gone 16-4-0 with a 2.11 goals-against average and a .927 save percentage. Prior to that, he was 12-5-2 with a 2.09 GAA and .930 SP. In fact, Bobrovsky was wearing the pants for much of the Blue Jackets’ record-tying winning streak. Bobrovsky won 14 of those games, 13 of them after Dec. 1.
“I figured, ‘Why not?’ ” Bobrovsky said of his decision to start using the gear two months before it was mandated. “I thought the earlier I got used to them, the better it would be for me. I feel pretty comfortable in them.”
All eight of the goalies who played in the All-Star Game over the weekend have tried the new pants, which are contoured to the dimensions of each goaltender’s body, at least in practice. Most of them said there was little difference, but they received mixed reactions to say the least. The most critical by far was Arizona Coyotes goalie Mike Smith, who doesn’t like the idea that the league has gone to the new pants in the middle of a season.
“I’m not a fan,” said Smith, who acknowledged he has only tried the new pants in practice once. “To make an equipment change mid-season, I think is just ridiculous. Guys shoot really hard and we’re already giving up a lot more scoring chances than we have in the past and try to make an equipment change mid-season doesn’t make any sense.”
Aside from the timing of the change, Smith said he wasn’t pleased with the product he received from the manufacturer. Smith said he found his pants rotated on his leg because they’re more round now and they pushed his kneepad down. He said Coyotes back-up Louis Dominigue took a shot in the knee in the new pants because they were riding up too much.
“I don’t think they’ve mastered the pant yet, either,” Smith said. “When I tried mine, the stitching is already coming out. It’s almost like they rushed it to get it all done and I don’t believe that’s the way to make it better. There’s 2 ½ months left in the season and it’s something that can wait. What’s the difference if they do it now or in a couple of months? You have the summer to at least get used to the pant and for them to figure out the best way to fit you. I know they’ve tried to rush this through, but personally I just don’t think it makes any sense to do that.”
Minnesota Wild goalie Devan Dubnyk, who said he’ll go right until the Saturday deadline before he wears them in a game, isn’t exactly thrilled with the switch either.
“I’m not going to tell you what I actually think, so there’s the verdict,” Dubnyk said. “Kay (Whitmore of the NHL) has worked hard to get everybody comfortable in them. I don’t agree with changing them in the middle of the season. That’s my only problem. Kay has also worked with us and the manufacturers so that if the coverage wasn’t there it was fixed and you got a new pair if you needed them.”
All of the streamlined equipment was supposed to come into effect for the beginning of the season, but there were snags both with manufacturers and the NHL Players’ Association. So the league announced it would streamline pants this season and implement the rest of the changes in time for the start of the 2017-18 season.
Washington Capitals goalie Brayden Holtby, who allowed only three goals on 20 shots in the all-star tournament wearing the pants, said he hasn’t noticed much of a difference yet, but thinks goalies around the league might be sporting a few more welts in the new gear.
“As long as they protect your hip bones, which your chest pad helps with that, your thighs can take bruises. It’s not a big deal.”
Chicago Blackhawks goalie Corey Crawford had the same assessment of the pants, which he has used in practices and in one game so far.
“There’s not that much difference,” Crawford said. “Maybe a little less padding, especially on the inside. It opens you up for some stingers, but it is what it is. I think guys will adjust. It’s about the easiest piece of equipment to adjust to. We kind of have to wear them and suck it up. We don’t have a choice.”
San Jose Sharks goalie Martin Jones said he has been using them in both practices and games the past couple of weeks and, after an initial breaking-in period, said he feels comfortable and safe in them.
“It took some getting used to for sure,” Jones said. “They’re noticeably tighter and moving around those first few skates was a little different, but I haven’t really noticed it too much the last week or two. I can see why guys might not like them because it’s tighter and a little tougher to move, but it just takes some getting used to.”
While Carey Price of the Montreal Canadiens said it’s too early to offer a verdict on the new pants, Tuukka Rask of the Boston Bruins said he tried them in the last game before the all-star break- a game in which he allowed three goals on 22 shots - but reported he didn’t feel any difference.
“The timing probably could have been better,” Rask said. “But what can you do? You can’t fight city hall.”