The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

For NHL goalies, league’s new pad restrictions are a real pain

Washington Capitals goaltender Braden Holtby (70) stands on the ice during a break in the action in the second period of an NHL hockey game against the New York Rangers, Wednesday, Oct. 17, 2018, in Washington. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)

Vegas Golden Knights goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury has started to wear an extra undershirt to protect himself. Even with Braden Holtby’s Washington Capitals teammates toning down the power of their shots in practices, he’s started to feel the sting of pucks in ways he hasn’t before. The first month of new streamlined goaltender equipment, particularly around the arms, has been a painful adjustment.

“You get stingers and bruises and stuff like that,” Fleury said.

“Sooner or later, someone’s going to get hurt pretty bad,” Holtby said.

The NHL, in conjunction with the players’ association, mandated new chest protectors for goaltenders this season. The shoulders were reduced by roughly an inch so they’re more formfitting and less boxy, and the padding around the arms was also streamlined. The changes are part of an ongoing process to have goaltenders more closely resemble their actual size with the aim of boosting scoring around the league. Two seasons ago, it was their pants that got thinner.

“I think the width is probably the biggest thing – the width of the shoulders and the width of the arms,” Fleury said earlier this month. “Sometimes you feel a little skinnier, I would say. It took a while to find what I wanted, or what I would feel comfortable with.”

Capitals’ John Carlson to Alex Ovechkin power-play connection keeps maturing

Holtby said he’s been using CCM equipment since he was a teenager, but the chest protectors he received from company made him “more bulky, more stiff, and it kind of took the athleticism out.” He found a company that adhered to the new standards while also modeling the new gear off his beloved old model. His mobility is better now.

“You can deal with bumps and bruises and stuff, but you hope someone doesn’t get a broken bone out of it,” Holtby said. “If they keep making things like that, they’re going to have to start monitoring the stick technology because guys shoot so hard right now, we have no choice but to be bigger. … It’s okay now, but sticks keep getting better every single year. In five years, if we’re still wearing these, it’s going to get dangerous.”

NHL Deputy Commissioner Billy Daly said in an email that the modifications were delayed several years “to ensure there was a comfort and satisfaction level” for goaltenders, upon which the players’ association insisted.

“These have been very well vetted with the goalie community,” Daly said. “These revised standards were formulated predominantly with the idea of maintaining goaltender safety. So I think the current comments are more a matter of adjustment than anything else. Obviously, if we really have an ‘injury’/ ‘health and safety’ issue, we would reevaluate. I’m fairly confident that won’t be the case.”

The reduction of padding around the arms has led to the most grumbling. Philadelphia Flyers goalie Brian Elliott told the Courier Post he’s “getting bruised like crazy,” and Columbus’s Sergei Bobrovsky told the Columbus Dispatch, "You start to be afraid of pucks, actually, especially in the practices.”

Maple Leafs’ Auston Matthews embracing the spotlight on and off the ice

“There’s no buffer for impact,” Holtby said. “When a snap shot hurts, what if [Montreal Canadiens defenseman] Shea Weber came up on you [with a shot high on your body]? That becomes real dangerous, especially when your chest pads are right on your body, around your heart. You just hope the league doesn’t put fan experience before player safety.”

Through the first 114 NHL games of this season, scoring is up to 3.10 goals per game, a significant bump from last year’s 2.97 goals per game, which was the highest since the 2005-06 season. There tend to be more goals early in the year as teams iron out their defensive structure, but Holtby rejected a correlation between an increase in scoring and streamlined goaltending equipment.

“I get what they’re doing,” Holtby said. “You look at some guys and they look different than others. But as far as the scoring goes, no, it’s just turning into an offensive-based league. That’s just the trend it’s going, and who knows if it’s good or bad. That’s just the way it is. You’re going to see more of those games because it’s more wide-open with every rule change and every young player coming up. There’s no defensive stars coming up anymore because teams don’t take them. …

“You just kind of hope that they find a happy medium before [an injury] happens, where they can streamline the [goaltending equipment] size, cut down on the guys who were using extremely big [gear], but not take away from the guys who weren’t before. Because there are a lot of guys who look the exact same or even bigger with these now when you look at them. It’s just tighter to your body and a little bit more dangerous.”

More on the Capitals and the NHL:

The NHL’s expansion era may be ending with Seattle. What does that mean for Quebec City?

John Carlson is coming off a career year. What’s next? More awards consideration.

The Caps think Evgeny Kuznetsov is one of the NHL’s best, but he just wants to have fun