Lightning goalie Mike Smith said he completely understood the situation. He did not like it, but he understood.
Smith on Tuesday was bulldozed in the crease by Capitals defenseman Brooks Laich, who in the old days would have been jumped by Smith's teammates as payback. But with Smith lying in the net with a neck strain, Laich skated to the penalty box without a challenge.
Sign of the times, said Smith, who Thursday called for the league to get rid of the instigator rule, which severely penalizes players who start fights and, he believes, prevents teammates from protecting each other.
"We get a power play and end up scoring a goal on it, so that's just discipline as far as being a disciplined hockey team," Smith said of his teammates' restraint.
But Smith said he likely would not have been run over, and would not be nursing an injury that has kept him out of three games, if Laich had had to answer for his actions.
"It would be a different game if a guy had to stand up for himself if he did something like that," Smith said. "Then there's a price to be paid if you run a goalie or make a dirty hit."
The debate about the instigator rule, which hands out 12 extra penalty minutes for starting a fight — two for instigating and a 10-minute misconduct — is not new. But goalies have an extra stake. Because their concentration is on the puck, they are not bracing for hits.
It is even a bigger issue for Smith, who missed half of last season, and did not skate from January through August, because of postconcussion syndrome. The last thing he needs is an unexpected jolt.
Coincidence or not, Smith believes he is involved in much more contact than in the past.
"I think everyone's game plan against me is to get to the net," Smith, 27, said. "I'm a big guy, so they want to get bodies and pucks to the net as much as they can. That's just part of the game. But that play there, when (Laich) got me, he didn't try too hard to get out of the way, if he tried at all."
Bottom line, Smith said:
"Sooner or later, you have to protect the goalies somehow. You get a little slap on the wrist for running a goalie, you go back the next shift and do it again. It's something that has to be looked at more and more, not just for me but for the safety of other goalies.
"It's a tough position to be in with big guys skating as fast as they can, coming into the net as hard as they do. Guys are going to get hurt. Just too bad it happened to me."