Ilya Bryzgalov of the Flyers' is not the only big name goaltender whose play has left a lot to be desired. (Tom Mihalek/AP)
By Stu Hackel
The roar in the hockey community about discipline for illegal hits to the head and boarding seems to have subsided -- for the moment, at least. So what's the game's latest trending topic? How about the lack of great goaltending in some cities?
This isn't to condemn the entire goaltenders' union. Kari Lehtonen in Dallas, Pittsburgh's Marc-Andre Fleury, L.A.'s Jonathan Quick, Brian Elliot in St. Louis, Washington's Tomas Vokoun and Edmonton's Nikolai Khabibulin, for example, have been playing very well. Quick may be the best goalie in the NHL who no one knows about. But there have been some funky goals allowed and overall poor performances from guys who should be better.
In Philadelphia Ilya Bryzgalov's play has been well below what the Flyers expected of him -- and paid handsomely for. He started well, but was pretty poor Thursday night in relief of Sergei Bobrovski against the Jets, surrendering four goals on 10 shots, none worse than this one by defenseman Mark Stuart -- who is hardly known for his blistering wrist shot -- that goes between Bryzgalov's legs.
The goalie broke his stick over the crossbar after that one and there were more to come during the NHL's highest scoring game in 15 seasons, a 9-8 Jets win. None of the four goalies who appeared in that game played well, but the other three don't carry the label of franchise savior, either. Afterward, Bryzgalov bravely faced the press and confessed that he's lost all confidence in himself.
Those are stunning admissions by an NHL goalie, much less one who is making $10 million this season. Good for him taking the heat instead of throwing his defense corps under the bus (where it perhaps belongs), especially in light of Chris Pronger's absence. But this guy is somehow going to have to pull himself back together. Playing goal in Philadelphia (where booing has been raised to an art form) is a bit more demanding than what he was used to in Phoenix.
Then early in the third period, Lundqvist first gave up a juicy rebound for Joffrey Lupul's goal, then was overpowered by a Clarke MacArthur shot through his legs (video). Not long after that, Mike Brown blew another puck by him on the glove side (video).
The Rangers young defense is questionable without the injured Marc Staal and if Lundqvist isn't at his best, this team could have problems.
The Leafs had to be thankful that Lundqvist was less than kingly since Jonas Gustavsson at the other end began the night by letting Dan Girardi's shot slide through him (video). Big Gustavsson's play is often monstrous (not in the way his nickname "The Monster" connotes) and with James Reimer on injured reserve, goaltending could resume being problematic for Toronto.
Carey Price of the Canadiens' started the season with some weak moments, although he looks to be turning things around, as is his team. But on Thursday night in Boston, it appeared that he fell asleep on this face-off play in his own end. Tomas Plekanec won the draw and it came right back to Price.
The Habs' goalie is a laid back guy, but he was far too laid back on that one. Fortunately for him and his mates, he was quite strong the rest of the way in Montreal's 2-1 win.
Detroit has lost two in a row and while no one in the Red Wings organization blamed Ty Conklin for the defeat in Columbus where the Red Wings pulled a no-show, he served up a huge rebound to R.J. Umberger to open the scoring 21 seconds into the Blue Jackets 4-1 win (video). Conklin was not particularly sharp against the Capitals last week in a 7-1 loss that ended Detroit's undefeated start, especially on Matthieu Perreault's backbreaker (video) at 19:52 of the second period that extended the Caps' lead to 4-1.
Conklin is Jimmy Howard's backup, but Hockeytown is just as hard on its goalies as Philly, so they can't be too pleased. Howard returns to the net on Friday night against the Sharks after his paternity leave and that will present Conklin with an opportunity to sharpen his game in practice.
I won't even get into poor Roberto Luongo's troubles.
Now, I have a good amount of sympathy for goalies. I started my hockey life as one. Five decades later, I still strap on the pads a few times a year and love doing it. But here is the first place where my sympathy ends: The equipment many NHL goalies are using is ridiculously oversized. The notion that the rules have changed for the better on that is ludicrous. The body armour goalies wear is supposed to be protective, not assistive. But catch the shoulder gear some of these guys wear and you have to admit it is reminiscent of Garth Snow's massive "pup tents" that extended to his earlobes and expanded his upper body.
The rulebook was changed to make that sort of thing illegal. It now reads "Shoulder cap protectors must follow the contour of the shoulder cap without becoming a projection/extension beyond or above the shoulder or shoulder cap. This contoured padding must not be more than one inch (1") in thickness beyond the top ridge of the shoulder and shoulder cap."
Well, if a few guys aren't cheating, I'd better get a new TV.
And the leg pads that goaltenders wear today are ridiculously long.
Here's a video compilation of saves by the Ducks' Jonas Hiller, a goalie I admire quite a bit for his athleticism and determination. It shows just how long those leg suckers are. I don't mean to single out Hiller because most NHL goalies wear pads that appear to be overly long.
The height of Hiller's pads had no bearing on many of those great saves, but with so many goalies having perfected their lateral mobility, shooters often target the area between the legs -- and with pads that long, there's no room there.
The NHL regulation governing leg pads, Rule 11.2, is just plain unfair, especially to smaller goalies, because the length is fixed based on a goaltender's personal dimensions. So the big guys get an advantage based on their size -- they can wear long pads because their legs are long, but a shorter goalie cannot. (Yes, I realize I'm also arguing against long pads, but that size disparity just shows you how nonsensical these rules are.)
Just for fun, here's the part of the rule dealing with length of the pads, including the quadratic equation used to figure their dimensions: "Each goalkeeper must wear pads that are anatomically proportional and size specific based on the individual physical characteristics of that goalkeeper. The League's Hockey Operations Department will have the complete discretion to determine the maximum height of each goalkeeper's pads based on measurements obtained by the League's Hockey Operations Department, which will include the floor to center of knee and center of knee to pelvis measurements. Each goalkeeper will be given a Limiting Distance Size based on these measurements. The Limiting Distance Size will be the sum of the floor to knee and 55% of the knee to pelvis measurements plus a four-inch (4”) allowance for the height of the skate. The Limiting Distance Size is a vertical measurement from the playing surface and will be measured with the Limiting Distance Gauge."
Fifty five percent? Where did that come from? Why not 40 percent, or 25 percent? What's the logic here? Plus four inches? Now, that's just silly. Some of these guys look like they've attached surfboards to their legs. And I'm assuming that the league has actually measured the pads to ensure that the goalies are conforming to this and not taking liberties when no one is looking.
Just eyeballing some of the current goal pads, the area from the knee to the top goes on forever. When a goalie is crouched forward, the pads can extend to the crest on his jersey. That's the middle of his chest. They may be legal -- or not -- but they're just too long. A very swift web search found some illustrations -- not to pick on any of these great goalies, many of whom are among my favorites, but the pads worn by Lundqvist seem longer than most. And check out these images of the Bruins' Tuuka Rask, Annti Niemi of the Sharks,' Reimer, Quick, Price, Fleury, Michal Neuvirth of the Capitals, and Pekka Rinne of the Predators. You can do your own search for goalies on other teams and you'll probably find similar shots. I believe that Tim Thomas and Marty Brodeur both use shorter pads, but goalies who do are in the minority.
And when a goalie goes down in the butterfly, his pads converge at the top to eliminate the five hole and covers the entire lower area of the net, post to post, like a cinderblock wall. They are supposed to be only 11 inches wide, and we'll have to take the league at its word that it monitors that. I'm not always so sure the pads are not wider.
Again, goalie equipment is supposed to be designed for protection, not to extend the goalie's blocking abilities. The first rule of goalie equipment in the NHL Rulebook is "With the exception of skates and stick, all the equipment worn by the goalkeeper must be constructed solely for the purpose of protecting the head or body, and he must not wear any garment or use any contrivance which would give him undue assistance in keeping goal." To me, it looks like the rules contravene their stated purpose.
This all might sound like griping. The amount of goals being scored in the NHL is pretty steady, about five and a half per game, which it has been for a while. So there's no crisis here. But when you look at the way goalies are equipped, you have to wonder if they still don't have an unfair advantage, especially the taller ones.
As with most things here in October, it's a bit too early to make any big pronouncements on the state of NHL goaltending. The poor performances cited above could be a strange wrinkle in the fabric of the whole season, but it's a funky wrinkle that is causing some concern in a few conspicuous cities around the league.
The Wicked Pickett's version was not the original. This was: