NASHVILLE, Tenn. — NHL goaltenders prepare for the unpredictable, ready for pucks deflecting off sticks, bodies, feet or a divot in the ice, past all the gear designed to help defend their net.
The freaky, fluky or simply weird goals can be laughed off by goalies who know sometimes the puck just takes a funny bounce.
The goals that eat at a goalie are those he believes he could've - and should've - stopped. Not the goal allowed by Dallas goalie Anton Khudobin where the puck bounced off a Nashville forward's back and over the net before hitting the back of the goalie's helmet, then off his back and into the net.
''It stings anytime you give up a goal,'' Predators goalie Pekka Rinne said Tuesday. ''That kind of goal, there's nothing really he could've done. It's a freaky goal, and I feel like those things maybe happen once, twice in a season. But yeah, the ones that hurt the most as a goalie, it's the ones that you feel like you should've had it.''
Stick-handling in the NHL has improved right along with players' speed and skating thanks to offseason workouts. That also has boosted the creativity for shooters looking to do a bit more than a simple slap shot, wrister or snap shot.
''There's a lot of talent in the league, more maybe so now than there has been in years past,'' Colorado captain Gabriel Landeskog said. ''These young guys coming up, everybody has their own skills coaches and things like that. There's a lot of skills. I don't doubt there's more highlight-reel goals.''
Goaltenders have to be ready for the next move dreamed up by the league's stars to put the puck over the line. Scoring is up with the average number of goals scored per game increasing in each of the past four seasons, and the current average of 3.06 goals per game is on pace to be the highest since the 2005-06 season, according to Hockey-Reference.com .
''Maybe it's the skill of the players too, finding that one spot,'' Colorado goalie Philipp Grubauer said. ''(Evgeny) Kuznetsov in Washington, he's so sneaky in terms of what he wants to do and doesn't want to do. He puts the puck in spots. Maybe you get a weird bounce, hit a guy's shin pad or something like that.''
The NHL also keeps downsizing goaltenders' pads, most recently chest protectors. Grubauer sees teams also changing how they break out on offense, attacking faster and giving goalies less time.
''Back in the days, you always used to go back and regroup and break out as a unit,'' Grubauer said. ''I feel like the last couple of years, it's always like, (snaps fingers) and up (snaps fingers) and up.''
Sometimes goalies get lucky, too.
Buffalo goalie Carter Hutton appeared to be losing his balance Sunday in the first period against Winnipeg with Adam Lowry coming in on a short-handed breakaway. Hutton put his glove down at the exact moment Lowry tried to slip the puck between the goalie's legs for the save.
''You definitely get some fluky saves where you're beat and a guy just hits you,'' Hutton said.
The Sabres goalie also recalls being on his goal line when the puck came up, rolled over the top of the net, hit his neck and went in. He had another puck slip past him on a penalty shot in December against Florida.
''You make the initial save, and it lands on my pads sideways and just slowly rolls off,'' Hutton said. ''That's one where if it's during a game, a D-man's probably there to stop it or that puck lands flat on my pad and doesn't go in. It's unfortunate that it lands sideways and rolls off my pad. So that's one that I would say this year that's been fluky.''
There's one goal so weird it's called the Butt Goal.
Defenseman Mark Pysyk, now with Florida, got his first goal of the 2013 season right before Christmas in overtime after jamming at the puck, sending it into the air and into the pants of Coyotes goalie Mike Smith who then backed into his own net.
''I didn't think they would call it a goal, because I didn't think they'd see it, but they did,'' Pysyk said. ''It was in his pants and he backed in. I think you could see me point at it. They counted it a little bit after, obviously, so I didn't have a chance to celebrate normally. It was pretty funny.''