We’ve seen a lot of changes to the game of hockey over the years – players stopped “training” in “training camp,” and devoted the bulk of their off-season to getting bigger, stronger, and faster, to the point where they’re basically machines. The skates are lighter and more supportive, as is the rest of the gear. But the biggest change in the last decade or so is how much different the shots are.
Unfortunately, I can’t shake the feeling that without a little more respect among players that could lead to a seriously tragic event. Screening the goalie is catching up to fighting on the dangerous meter, as we saw once again last night. We’ll get to that incident in a sec, but first let’s kick around why this has become so dangerous.
A combination of players getting more machinelike and new “hot” sticks that shoot the puck like rocket launchers have brought us a new game – where there were once a handful of guys with great shots, everyone has a bomb now (compared to even 20 years ago). What’s really changed is the whip/torque that the sticks generate that make it super easy to get the puck up high. If you’re a strong guy, it’s arguably harder to keep a slapshot down than it is to get it up.
Combine that fact with the natural evolution of goaltending leading to the butterfly style which focuses on taking away the bottom of the net, and you’ve got a lot of people shooting the puck very hard very high very often. Even when you don’t see the net, your best bet is to go cheese because it gives you the best chance to find a hole. So, guys do.
The other issue is that coaches really love getting traffic in front of the net. If a goalie’s on his knees and you can take away his eyes by simply standing in front of him, you have to like the odds of the next shot going in. From there, you can tip the puck in, and you can find rebounds too.
All those factors mean that the opposition is going to have bodies in front of your net, which means, boy, you better get your guys in there to clear them out. Bodies, bodies, everywhere.
You see where this has all been headed.
Here’s the .GIF of that (bloodless), then the still pic (not so much):
And the pic (again, blood involved)…
This is becoming an not-so-infrequent sight around the NHL.
I’m a little sensitive to it given my own last pro game saw me take a slapshot to the face that required months in wires, multiple surgeries and a number of plates and screws. The play was simple: I passed the puck up to my d-man from the corner and jumped around my guy to get to the net. Our d-man took a few strides into the open middle of the zone, and hammered a slapshot meant for the top corner. You could damn near read the brand of the puck where it hit my face a week later.
Sidney Crosby had a similar experience, Seth Jones took one to the head, and hell, even Shea Weber took a puck in the eye this season. It seems to be increasing in frequency, so it might not be a terrible idea for players to become aware of that and start being a little more cautious with their shots before something terrible happens.
We’re still fairly new in the “everyone has an amazing shot and can tuck a slapshot under the bar with consistency” era. It’s probably been about a decade now, and everyone is still in love with the fact they can do it. But in practice, defenseman quickly learned that they shouldn’t try to bomb pucks into the upper half of the net because neither player nor goalie benefits from them attempting that.
A goal is an extremely valuable event in a game, but the increased likelihood of eliminating your own teammates has shifted the risk/reward to where I think guys might have to be safer with their decision making. When you try to go high and you don’t have a clear lane to the net you put people at risk because there are factors you can’t control. The puck can bounce, your shot can knuckle, you can’t predict where everyone is moving…shooting high with a lot of people in front is borderline moronic, only…it’s pro sports, there’s risk for everyone, goals matter, and guys are selfish.
Well, they used to be selfish about head shots too, but we’re seeing guys starting to make safer decisions there. Smart thinking is, in fact, possible.
I do believe that in the not too distant future forwards will start expecting a little more caution from their teammates, and blindly bombing a puck up top will start to dwindle.
Guys will always go high when they’ve got a clear lane, but with the amount of guys that do it without a second thought right now, I’m scared for what could happen to somebody if players don’t realize how dangerous the play has become.