More bruises, more goals after NHL tweaks goalies’ gear

It's safe to say the new chest protectors are taking some getting used to.
Tampa Bay Lightning goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy (88) makes a save on a shot by the Toronto Maple Leafs during the first period of an NHL hockey game Thursday, Dec. 13, 2018, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)
Tampa Bay Lightning goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy (88) makes a save on a shot by the Toronto Maple Leafs during the first period of an NHL hockey game Thursday, Dec. 13, 2018, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)
Published Dec. 26, 2018

TAMPA — Lightning goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy measures change in bruises.

He added about one or two each month of the season before the NHL changed chest protector size requirements this offseason. After the switch, he has found about five or six on his body each month.

"It feels like that you have more bruises for sure," Vasilevskiy said.

These extra blemishes are one of several issues the new chest protectors have presented Lightning goaltenders after the NHL and NHL Players Association agreed to chest protector modifications before the season. It's the latest change to goaltender equipment after modifications in recent years to pants and pads.

John Dellapina, the NHL's senior vice president of communications, said the league's focus, led by direction from NHL goaltending supervisor Kay Whitmore, has been to restore goaltender equipment to the role of protecting goalies rather than preventing goals.

"Goalies had used equipment modifications to get artificially large in the net, which artificially prevented goals and even discouraged shots," Dellapina said.

As to what the new requirements are, there is not a single size regulation because of the different sizes of goaltenders. Eddie Pasquale, who has spent time with the Lightning and AHL Syracuse this season, said the notable changes come around the arms and shoulders where more tapered padding does not wrap around like before.

"So if you lift your shoulders, sometimes you get it off the tip of your shoulder and it's not very nice," he said.

He found himself giving up more goals around his arms because of less padding. It opened up previously covered spots, which is why Vasilevskiy might find a few more extra bruises than previous seasons.

"You feel a lot more shots than I did last year," Pasquale said. "That's for sure."

But multiple Lightning forwards said they did not change their approach in shooting because of a change to the chest protector.

"I don't really think about shooting higher because they have different padding up there," forward Yanni Gourde said. "When I go down, I basically close my eyes and hope the puck goes in."

Either way, the average number of goals per game has increased. NHL teams are averaging 3.08 goals per game, up from 2.97 last season. Just two seasons ago, that number sat at 2.77.

Lightning backup goaltender Louis Domingue would attribute early goals to goaltenders needing time to adjust to new chest protectors more than anything. Especially in the first few games. Most goaltenders received their new chest protectors in the middle of training camp.

It took two seconds of Domingue trying on his new chest protector before he knew it was not going to work.

"I completely hate and can't move in it," he recalled thinking.

He shipped it back to CCM, the company that had made his chest protector for about a decade. CCM only updated its newer model to meet those requirements, not the older model that Domingue liked and had used for his entire pro career.

He decided to switch to Bauer. He estimates about 75 percent of NHL goaltenders switched to a different company. His new pads didn't arrive until two days before the Lightning's first game.

It was during the start to the season that Lightning goaltender coach Frantz Jean heard the most complaints from his goaltenders. The frequency of those complaints has dwindled as the season has progressed, but Jean still hears them from time to time.

Jean thinks the shots that goaltenders face are the best they have been in the history of the game, which is why he wants to make sure protection is still adequate when any modification is made to equipment.

"Over time, I think the guys will build a certain immune system to those types of impact and adjust that way," Jean said. "I think, also, the manufacturers have a responsibility to stay within the new sizing while providing as much protection as possible. If we can go to the level of the old protection, that would be ideal."