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A friend posted a link to this article from the Wall Street Journal on her blog last week and I’ve been stewing on it ever since.

The information in the article isn’t bad. It touches on the various reasons goalies are posting record save percentages (bigger, more athletic) and improvements to longevity (hip surgery, safer equipment).

But the tone makes me cranky, starting with, “Their equipment practically blocks the pucks for them” and continues with the implication that even with modifications to the game and to goalie gear, scoring is still thwarted by the “giant green lizards” of the crease. And that it will only continue to get “worse.”

Back the truck up, buddy.

First, what this article smacks of is someone who hasn’t watched any classic games on the NHL Network in a while.

For every grainy highlight of Ron Hextall, in his minimalist gear,  throwing his body around and robbing shooters, there are 10 more of goals scored on him and every other goalie that would make you cringe.

Ugly, ugly stuff, right through the skates or past the stick or a kicked out leg. I watch those games with my jaw in my lap, aghast that they ever stopped anything at all.

(I know Jagr was/is good, but look at the goalies! Augh!!)

I believe people think they want more scoring but what they really want is more shots on goal. Chances, quality ones, are what make hockey so electric. And the onus of that is on the skaters and coaches, not the goalies.

And really, if you think about it, the better goalies are, the better shooters have to become. Don’t we all love a hard earned, beautifully set-up goal more than cheap goals the goalie should have had?

The other thing that’s obvious is that this writer has never strapped the pads on himself.

Now, I know that every single person who writes about the state of goaltending doesn’t need to have spent time in the crease. But when I see an article like this that really misses the mark in terms of acknowledging the all-important mental side of the position, I wish I could do a goalie mind meld and make them “get it.”

The closest I can come, in lieu of that, is this:  For goalies, shooters are like mosquitoes.

Sure, humans are bigger, but mosquitoes, like skaters, are swift and crafty and legion. They buzz around, trying to find that perfect moment, where you’re still or you’re not looking or you’re busy with something else, and then they BITE.

I don’t have to explain that irritation. You’ve all felt it. No matter how mobile and well equipped you are, both mosquitoes and skaters almost always find a way through your defenses.

At times, it’s the accumulation of stings that wears you down. The mosquitoes literally suck the life out of you. Skaters just do it figuratively, one goal at a time.

And the real challenge of goaltending is having the mental wherewithal to stick to your game and use all these tools (size, technique) in the face of such adversity. Beyond the gear, the coaching, and the rules of the game meant to “contain” goalies, the biggest asset (or detractor *cough*Luongo*cough*) a goalie has is his or her mind.

That’s what the author of that WSJ article fails to recognize, despite addressing every other facet of goaltending: Goalies will only ever be as dominant as they are mentally strong.

There have always been and always will be goalies who are more up for the task mentally than the guy across from them.

So rest easy, all you goalie-phobes who have nightmares of endless shutouts and puck-stopping Godzillas. At some point, every goalie will end up flailing fruitlessly at the relentless swarm of shooters, and you will get your goals.

Comments (6)

  1. When I read that article, my biggest response was that they didn’t ask the right question at all. The question isn’t whether goalies are “too dominant” (too dominant for what, anyway?). The question should be whether goalies getting better is good for the game. Which it seems to be. Take a look at the Vancouver-Boston series. Thomas vs. Luongo was the theme of that series. People were talking about what kind of goaltenders we want to see, about technique and instinct and what makes a goalie good. It had the highest TV ratings in how many years? Tim Thomas is a star, and has brought new fans into the fold. How is that bad?

    The fallacy that reporter bought into is that more goals=a better game. One of the best games I’ve seen in ages was the Tampa Bay-Boston ECF Game 7, which was scoreless for 50 minutes. Yes, the goaltenders were dominant, but oh, how exciting a game that was! The better the goaltending was the better everyone else seemed to play. It’s a win-win situation.

  2. Great point. I’ve never understood the urgency from the league or anyone else to increase scoring. Or at least, I haven’t understood that rationale for decreasing the size of goalie gear. Decrease the size of goalie gear because some dudes just got ridiculous about it. Though honestly, most goalies will tell you, they’d prefer to wear as little as will keep them safe. Too much just binds you up.

  3. I don’t think people necessarily even want to see more shots, as compared to more goals. I think more scoring chances is what makes for exciting hockey. This effects goaltenders, as the better goaltenders are, the better the opportunity has to be to realistically present a scoring opportunity. In the past, a player coming down on the rush and firing a shot on net was a legitimate scoring opportunity. These days, there are very few players who can just rip the puck past a goaltender. This changes the way the forwards, defensemen, and goaltenders play these situations. Making the puck carrier less dangerous makes the defenders job easier, which in turn increases the difficulty of getting a good scoring chance for the forwards. I think this sort of thing is reflected in other areas as well, namely the powerplay. You can’t just blame skaters for getting less shots, as they have to adjust the way they play to account for the improvements in netminders.

  4. Irbe totally killed the pad size thing. I mean, look at the guy. He wore pads that we’re a good 4-6 inches too high for him. Hockey’s a game of inches, and those things matter. Ultimately, they’ll realize making equipment smaller does not make a huge difference in testing and it’ll get shelved. I hope.

  5. I completely agree with you on this. The NHL doesn’t need more goals, it needs more scoring chances. Watching a tic tac toe goal is just as entertaining as a goalie stretching out his big toe to make the stop on the same play. And saying that goals are going to be scored less as time goes on is just as false. When is the last time a rule change or restriction was implemented in favor of a goalie making saves easier. From the recent pad restriction to the new net depth being played with, everything is for the shooter. Goalies make the NHL just as interesting as the scorers do.

  6. The idea that low-scoring events are bad for the game stems from the dead-puck era. In the 90′s teams that played a heavily defense-oriented game, such as the Devils (the popular example, no hate for the Devils), created an environment in which it was difficult to create scoring opportunities. The result is a cognitive association between ‘poorly entertaining hockey’ and ‘low-scoring games.’

    The truth is exactly as Ms Conduct puts it. The reason hockey was painful to watch in that era was because there weren’t any scoring opportunities. Breakouts were being stifled in the neutral zone long before guys could put up any kind of pressure on the fore-check.

    Close games are the best games. A one or two-goal lead late in the game creates such an electrifying atmosphere. Games that have incredibly high scoring totals, like the Winnipeg-Philadelphia game this past week are a lot of fun too, but mostly in a kind-of embarrassing way. If that happened more than a couple times a season we’d be seriously questioning the quality of goaltending in the opposite direction.

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