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Braden Holtby, Philipp Grubauer weigh in on Babcock’s idea to widen nets

(Adam Hunger / USA TODAY Sports).
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Earlier this week, Toronto Maple Leafs Coach Mike Babcock was asked about his thoughts on video review of goals, and he saw an opportunity to rekindle his own debate about widening the goal nets because goaltenders are getting bigger, making for less room to score.

“It’s impossible to score,” he told reporters. “All you gotta do is a math equation. You go to 1980 when the puck went in the net. You got the average size of the goalies in the NHL and the average size of the net. You keep growing the net bigger, that would make the game the same. … The net’s too small for the size of the goalies. Period. The goalies are too good for the size of the net.”

Even Washington Capitals star winger Alex Ovechkin would agree with Babcock on this.

“The goalie get bigger obviously,” Ovechkin said. “If they stand up, they cover almost the whole net. Every year, it’s harder and harder.”

Would Ovechkin like a wider goal net?

“Yeah, let’s play soccer,” he quipped.

There are some indisputable points to be made here. While shot totals have been stable, goals have steadily declined. There are also some goaltenders in the league, like Tampa Bay’s Ben Bishop, Chicago’s Scott Darling and Nashville’s Pekka Rinne who are 6-foot-5 or taller.

The NHL has already implemented some rule changes to try to combat the slump in scoring; starting with this season, the attacking team gets to put its stick down second on faceoffs in the offensive zone, which would give it the advantage. Understandably, some goaltenders aren’t in favor of Babcock’s proposition.

“We’re not trying to be a basketball game,” Washington’s Braden Holtby said. “I feel like baseball still has scores that are 2-1 or 1-0 sometimes.”

Like other goaltenders, Holtby isn’t opposed to shrinking goalie equipment until its purely for protection. But he also said that many don’t realize that with the new graphite sticks, shots are so hard that he can still feel pain through padding when a puck slams into him.

Capitals backup goaltender Philipp Grubauer agreed with that sentiment.

“You shrink down (the pads) an inch, you expose your knee,” Grubauer said. “It’s stuff like that they probably don’t think about. But you can make a little piece smaller maybe, yeah, but it’s been so small already. The game has changed so much, the goalies have just improved over the last five or six years so much with positioning and technique. It’s tough for the players to score. I get that, but why should they make the goalie equipment even smaller and smaller and smaller?”

Capitals goaltending coach Mitch Korn told Yahoo’s Puck Daddy blog that widening the nets would fundamentally change the way goaltenders play their position. He advocated for going up instead of out.

“If you make them higher, all the saves goalies make just because they’re big, you can score,” Korn said. “And if they have to protect the top of the net in case the puck is elevated, well, guess what: They’re going to have to stand up more, and that means the bottom of the net will be exposed.”

Holtby doesn’t think goaltenders would necessarily struggle with a wider net, but he also doesn’t think it would solve everything. To his point, he’s not a gargantuan goalie at 6-foot-2, so perhaps scoring is down because more goaltenders are just good at their job. He said the taller a goaltender is, the more he struggles with closing holes quicker, so it often balances.

“To be honest, I think we’d adjust pretty quickly,” Holtby said. “I think most of the goals that are going in now, I think every one you react to, if it was an inch wider, you’d still save it. I think ones that are going in now are screens, deflections, prime scoring opportunity where guys are fooling you with their stick blade. You don’t see that many pucks that are hitting the inside of the post and going out anymore.

“I mean, I think it’s just grasping at something that doesn’t need to be done.”

Capitals Coach Barry Trotz is also against widening nets.

“I think they should probably stay the same,” he said. “I’m just more of a traditionalist. You find other ways to score on them. There’s probably a balancing point. The goalies are bigger and more athletic. The equipment’s better, I understand that. But on the other side, everything’s faster. Technology is much better, and guys shoot the puck a lot harder than they used to 15 years ago.”