Blogs > Red Wings Corner

Up-to-the minute updates and insights from the Red Wings locker room at home and on the road. By Chuck Pleiness of The Macomb Daily.

Monday, December 31, 2007

Old enough to know better

How old am I, son?
Well, your dad is old enough to remember when those goofy helmets that Chris Osgood and Dominik Hasek now wear were the most advanced technology in noggin' protection for NHL goalies.
I'm old enough to remember when a hard piece of fiberglass or plastic or whatever the heck those Jason-like masks were made of and those few strips of padding were all the rag in goaliewear.
I'm old enough to have gotten one of those hard masks as a gift from my grandmother. How cool is that for a grandmother? And I'm old enough to have played street hockey in the middle of August wearing that stupid mask in net. There was no need. We played with a tennis ball that stung, but didn't do damage. But I wore that mask -- sweat dripping from underneath -- the whole game because it was so cool.
I'm old enough to remember Ken Dryden's mask before it was a big red-white-and-blue bulls-eye looking thing. I remember when Dryden had a mask that was just asymmetrical strips of hard protection that looked like they were glued together by a drunkard at 3 a.m. That mask looked more like an exhibit from The Human Body than hockey gear. I believe a Dixie Cup would have served Dryden better.
Son, I'm old enough to have seen Jacques Plante and Gump Worsley play net with masks. I was young enough then to scratch my head when my father told me that it wasn't that long ago that gentlemen like Plante and Worsley faced Bobby Hull 's shot without anything protecting their faces. I still find that hard to believe.
Most of all, son, I'm old enough to remember when goalies stood up, when their heads were above the crossbar more often than just during commercial breaks.
So you see, son, I'm old enough to know that the biggest change in hockey in the past few decades and the biggest problem that hockey has to solve is the way that goalies play the game.
Watch Gilles Gilbert on a classic Bruins game on the NHL Network or Classic Sports. Watch a tape of "Slap Shot" -- a movie that should be watched at least once a year -- and notice how the Chiefs' goalie makes kick saves. Yes, I said kick saves, meaning that goalies used to kick the puck away with their feet while remaining upright.
Gilbert looks mighty odd to someone your age, but that was acceptable goaltending back when I was your age. In fact, going down was discouraged by both common practice and common sense.
All goalies nowadays stop the puck while on their knees or heading in that direction. And that's a much, much, much more effective way to play net than the method used when I was your age.
Back then, it would have been suicide to butterfly as much as modern goalies do. Your head would be ripped off.
And along the way, some bright guy figured out that all shots start on the ice. So if you get close enough to the shooter's stick and get right down on the ice, there's no way that the shooter can get the puck up over the goalie.
So here's the problem. Goalies stop more shots than ever.
I've heard the talk about making nets bigger. I'm old enough to think that no one in their right mind would even consider doing something as drastic as that. I've seen more power plays created with tighter calls on penalties. I've seen coaching staffs expanded and strategies perfected. I've seen neutral-zone traps blamed for all that is bad and wrongly so. (Teams have always had the option of sending one man or no men in on the forecheck, but it wasn't called a trap.)
But none of it matters.
Hand the shooters steroids if you want. Put a lively puck in the game. Make goalies wear pads that are three inches narrower. Let the players use lacrosse sticks to fling the puck at the net. Let them use Howitzers.
It won't matter.
Shooters are so, so much better now than when I was young. The puck comes from every angle like a shooting gallery. There are enough power plays and enough technology on the side of offense.
Offense will never increase until someone figures out how to counter butterfly goaltending. That's what's taken away the scoring.
Those new helmets are great because goalies need to be protected from shots that hard better than ever before.
But those helmets also protect their goals-against average.


Anonymous BobTheZee said...

Great stuff, Bruce, and good point. I'm old enough to remember watching goalies play without masks, and I've seen a few of them take a shot to the face. There's no way I'd ever suggest going back to that.

I'm from the school that says the level of scoring is just fine as is. Hockey has always been a damn exciting game, and the "removal" of obstruction has only made it better. If I want more scoring, I'll watch basketball (which I don't really ever feel the need to do).

December 31, 2007 at 1:32 PM 

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