The crease is no longer a safe place for NHL goalies
Posted: Friday November 4, 2005 1:33PM; Updated: Friday November 4, 2005 4:01PM
The red-hot Red Wings lost Manny Legace to a sprained knee.
As Buffalo fans watched goalies around the NHL dropping faster than TV ratings for this year's World Series, they flooded the local airwaves with calls demanding that Sabres GM Darcy Regier use his surplus at the position to take advantage of some team at the end of its rope.
Can't miss a chance to fleece a desperate opponent, right?
But Regier ignored their cries and held onto his trio of NHL-caliber stoppers (Ryan Miller, Mika Noronen and Martin Biron), meaning one of the three would sit in the press box each night instead of being dealt for someone who'd actually suit up.
That made the fans apoplectic. But when Miller broke his thumb during practice Wednesday -- sidelining the rookie for 6-8 weeks -- they finally understood what Regier knew all along: this new NHL is going to be murder on puckstoppers. And unless you want to end up like those other poor saps, you simply can't have too many.
Goaltenders haven't passed timber cutters and Alaskan crab fishermen on the list of most dangerous occupations quite yet, but you wouldn't want to be paying their insurance premiums, either.
One epidemic after another has decimated their ranks this season. It almost takes less space to name the goalies who haven't missed time to injury than those who have. The list of fallen No. 1s is staggering: Andrew Raycroft, Rick DiPietro, Marc Denis, Patrick Lalime, Curtis Joseph, Evgeni Nabokov, Jocelyn Thibault, Cam Ward and just this week, Dan Cloutier and Manny Legace.
At first, the common malady was the pulled groin. Butterfly goalies, especially those who played little, if at all, during the lockout were particularly susceptible. But lately, there has been a rash of contact-related trauma -- and it's likely to swell.
In the new NHL, the crease, once an area where angels feared to tread, has become as approachable as Tara Reid on dollar beer night. Forwards dart through the crease with reckless abandon as defensemen watch passively, paralyzed by trying to play within the rules that have been on the books for decades but have rarely been enforced.
Meanwhile, goalies -- no longer allowed to clear the area with a paddle to the groin of an imposing attacker like in the good old days -- can't protect themselves. They may as well replace the team logo on their chest with a bull's-eye.
Several clubs, including Detroit, Phoenix and San Jose, have had more than one stopper sidelined, but no team has suffered more than the Atlanta Thrashers, who have started five goalies over the first four weeks of the season.
The Thrashers recently signed veteran free-agent Steve Shields to provide some stability and help salvage the battered confidence of rookies Michael Garnett and Adam Berkhoel. But Shields' 4.67 GAA (and worse, an .837 save percentage) in his three starts has done little to right that listing ship.