Tuesday, December 29, 2020

Ringing in the new NHL season with some 2021 resolutions

I have this post that I like to do every year right around the time that the NHL season is almost about to start, where I recognize a new beginning in the hockey world by suggesting some resolutions. Get it? It’s funny, because they’re new year’s resolutions, but it’s September.


While 2020 will go down as the most messed up year in sports history, it’s at least leaving hockey fans with a nice bit of symmetry. With camps opening over the coming days, we get to have our new season and our new year at pretty much the same time. That means I get to do this resolutions gimmick at the same time you’re probably making the real thing. Or maybe you’re not, and you’re just planning to mark the end of 2020 the same way I am, by standing on your front porch at 11:59 p.m. screaming “GET OUT I HATE YOU” at the sky while your kids slowly inch back towards their rooms. We’re all coping in our own ways, is what I’m saying.

Where was I? Oh right, new season’s resolutions. As always, I’ll be offering up a few suggestions for how all of us — fans and media, newbies and diehards — can do this hockey thing just a little bit better. You’re welcome to pick and choose which ones might work for you. Maybe you already do a few of these, or you don’t think you should. If so, that’s fine. The main point is that we all have room for improvement, and far more importantly, 2020 can go screw.

Let’s stop acting like a shot that hits the post is a lucky break for the goalie

I’ll admit that I tend to pick on goalies. And rightly so, because they’re all huge weirdos who’ve ruined entertaining hockey by getting way too good at their jobs. I’m telling you, kids, this sport was a happier place when the goalies were all 5-foot-3 and had to desperately wave their adorably tiny limbs around to make saves before falling over because somebody made them try to move sideways. Now they’re all RVH cyborgs who wear the power armor from “Fallout” as equipment and who can shave 10 points off their save percentage by learning how to hold their head at a slightly different angle in the offseason. I hate them.

But today, a peace offering to my goaltending friends: We need to stop pretending they got lucky when a shot hits the post.

We all do it. You’ll hear about a goaltender getting a shutout, but then somebody chimes in with “Sure, but they gave up three posts.” OK … and? What does that have to do with anything? They stopped every shot that was going to go in the net, right? What’s the problem?

It’s especially weird since hockey fans generally hate the concept of luck. It’s the one four-letter word you’re not supposed to ever say at a hockey rink. You know the drill. Good teams make their own luck, good players just “find a way,” it all evens out anyway, etc. Fair enough. But then a goaltender has a good game, and we all want to accuse them of being lucky.

If a player dekes a goalie out of his shorts but then fans on the open net, you could call that luck. If a sure goal is taken off the board because the referee mistakenly blew the play dead, sure, that’s luck. If an ancestor of the bat from the 1975 Fog Game swoops down from the rafters just as the goalie is beaten clean on a slapshot and the puck hits it in mid-air, Randy Johnson style, and bounces harmlessly away, then absolutely, that would be luck.

But when a shot that wasn’t going in doesn’t go in? That’s not luck. That’s a shot that missed the mark. It’s not a goalie’s job to stop those. Tom Barrasso was right!

That’s not to say that we shouldn’t make note of shots that hit the post. Those are near-misses, and in a game of millimeters, like the modern NHL, they’re important moments. But the goalie is responsible for keeping the puck out of a very specific 24-square foot space, and that’s it. If they do that job for 60 minutes or more, that’s all we can ask. So let’s stop telling goalies they were just lucky when they weren’t.

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