- Darren Pang, NHL analyst
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Editor's note: Darren Pang, a former goaltender with the Chicago Blackhawks, wrote this for ESPN.com before signing a multiyear contract to join the Phoenix Coyotes' broadcast team as the club's new TV color analyst.
Before we get started, here's a reminder of the goaltender rule changes for the upcoming season:
Dimensions of goaltender equipment will be reduced by approximately 11 percent. In addition to a one-inch reduction (to 11 inches) in the width of leg pads, the blocking glove, upper-body protector, pants and jersey will also be reduced in size.
Goaltenders may play the puck behind the goal line only in a trapezoid-shaped area defined by lines that begin 6 feet from either goal post and extend diagonally to points 28 feet apart at the end boards.
Will the changes result in more scoring in the NHL?
The downsize of equipment should mean something, right? I mean, you take away an inch here and an inch there, and the puck will find a hole, shouldn't it?
That remains to be seen.
How many times have you watched an All-Star Game in the past 10 years? Has anyone on the ice ever complained about the size of the goalie's gear?
Did they think the glove was too big when Dany Heatley fired a howitzer to the top shelf on a perfectly executed 2-on-1? Not a chance.
Did they whine about the size of the pads in the Olympics when Mario Lemieux let that puck slide through his legs to a wide-open Paul Kariya as they entered the zone because he wasn't mauled by sticks and arms in the neutral zone? No. They thought Mario was brilliant, as they should have.
Will there be a few pucks that trickle between Nikolai Khabibulin's body and the net instead of it being sucked into his belly like a Hoover vacuum? Sure. I'm just not sure how many.
The changes are the right ones. Goalies will make adjustments along the way, the shooters and skill players will have more room, and flow will return to this great game. Let's break it down:
The rules have reduced size of the blocker, pants and upper body pad. That had to be done, and there will likely be more tweaks. It seems the blocker has shrunk down more than the catching glove. The blocker that Terry Sawchuk used in the 1950s was much wider than the one they will use in the new NHL. Yet the catching glove, with a "cheater" on it, hasn't changed much. That seems odd.
I like the fact they are doing something about the pants. Talk about a growing monster the past eight seasons. There are some goalie pants that I could use as a sleeping bag. Goalies have said it was for protection. I know players shoot harder than when I played, but I never suffered thigh injuries (and my thighs aren't that much bigger than ones you find in a KFC family pack). The pants just got bigger, and no one paid attention. Now they are, so maybe we'll see some daylight between the goalies' legs. Maybe.
Also, the jersey will be tapered. This is a good move. Goalies have been doing whatever possible to gain an edge with their jerseys. I remember seeing Billy Smith's jersey, how big the sleeves were around the wrist. I once saw Patrick Roy's jersey during his days at the Montreal Forum and I thought, why not make your arm pads bigger, if your jersey is that big?
Roy was an innovator, just like Tony Esposito before him. Tony used to take his pads apart before officials would measure them during the playoffs. Officials would say "perfect, Tony." Once they left the room, he'd take the stitches out and stuff them again. This came from the same guy who got caught with netting sewn on the inside thigh of his pants to stop the puck from going between his legs. With a tighter-fitting jersey, there will be more pucks that slide in or around the net than before. The shooter will at least see more room, more holes.
Flow of the game
This is what will really expose some goalies, especially after the 301-day lockout. Like I mentioned before, no one notices equipment at the All-Star Game or the Olympics. They notice the lack of hitting, clutching and trapping, the great passing and the open ice, giving players more quality shots in front of the net.
There will now be no red line, allowing two-line passes. This brings the smaller skilled player back to hockey. It puts emphasis on a defenseman such as Brian Rafalski, who can make that quick, tape-to-tape outlet pass. If games have just four outlet passes that lead to some speedy 2-on-1 breaks, then that will be perfect. It will not be like the European game, which sees more trapping of the puck.
What makes this difficult for goalies? Plays will develop quickly from east to west, not slowly from north to south. If the offense moves quickly up the ice, a player's speedy one-timer will impede the goalie's vision.
If a shot from the point rebounds to the left and the opposition skates hard to the post, all a goalie can do is watch as the player taps the puck past him.
I have to admit, I was not a fan of shootouts prior to the lockout. I played in the now-defunct IHL when shootouts were first put into play. I actually thought there was such a thing as good ties. The come-from-two-goals-down-in-the-third-period kind of ties. I liked the momentum that would carry into the next game.
But from the fan's point of view, shootouts will be exciting. We won't leave the rink with a tie. There will be a hero and there will be a goat. It could be the shooter or the goalie. Remember the stop Tommy Salo made against Paul Kariya in the 1994 Olympics that gave Sweden the gold medal?
By the time the shootout happens, there will be bad ice. This is good for the goalie. With the game on the line, fewer players will try tricky, dangling dekes in fear of the puck hopping over their sticks.
Goalies also must have a certain mind-set heading into a shootout. It will be more of a desperate, battling mind-set, rather than a patient, passive one. Coaches and goalies will have to work together to practice breakaway drills on a regular basis. They will have to do this at full speed so goalies can get into the right habits.
When these great athletes are allowed to play the game the way it was meant to be played – with the stick blade on the ice, with more passing and shooting -- goalies will have a more difficult time stopping the puck.
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