When Andrei Svechnikov tied last Tuesday’s game against Calgary 1-1, he made NHL history. For the first time the “lacrosse-style” goal (aka The Michigan Goal), made famous by Mike Legg in 1996, was successfully introduced to the NHL. Though it had been attempted before, no one had ever converted on the play.
“How do you defend that? I don’t know,” the posterized David Rittich said after that game. “Good play. Smart. Sick, sick move by him. I don’t know what I can say about it. I have to see it on video and see what I can do better.”
It left every NHL fan in awe and hopeful this could be a new way the league’s star players could attack the net in search of goals. But it also opened up a question of legality.
The jumping off point for that was the fact Svechnikov’s stick had to hit David Rittich in the mask to complete the attempt. Though not against the NHL’s rules — which allow “accidental contact on an opponent if the act is committed as a … follow through of a shooting motion” — the point was raised that this could be a worthy discussion to have as it relates to player safety. No one wants to remove offence from today’s game, but if a goal requires an attacker’s stick to be up in a goalie’s face, should that be OK?
“I think it’s definitely worthy of a conversation as everything is, I think, that’s regarding health — especially for your head and the brain, I think it’s worthwhile,” Toronto’s Frederik Andersen said on Hockey Central this week. “I’m sure we’ll see a trend of more guys trying to do [lacrosse-style goals] in the next little bit.
“I definitely think if sticks are flying around the head, I think it’s worth having a discussion, at least.”
So with a few more days to think about it, we wondered what some other goalies would have to say about this, so Sportsnet’s reporters from across Canada asked players at the position a couple of questions about the NHL’s hottest new goal style.
Do you have a thought on this idea that the lacrosse-style shot could be too dangerous (with sticks up near goalies’ faces) and that we should have a conversation about whether this type of move should be legal or not?
“I can think of half a dozen times you get hit in the head with someone’s stick during the game, whether it’s accidental or whatever. It’s not like the player is two-handing you in the head. And I do have a helmet on — a stick in the head isn’t as bad as someone’s elbow, a fist or (a 100 m.p.h. puck).
“It’s a unique play that doesn’t happen very often. When it does, you’ve just got to tip your hat.” – Edmonton’s Mike Smith.
“I don’t think there’s really much you can do about it. There are sticks around us every game. We’re getting hit every game, so I don’t really have an issue with that move.” – Vancouver’s Thatcher Demko
“I think it’s awesome. It’s creativity. I think we first saw it about 10 years ago, The Michigan Goal. It’s creative. For the guys who can do it, it’s a highlight reel no different from a guy skating coast-to-coast through five guys. It’s a skill that happens every once in a while and when it does you make a big deal of it. I think it’s kind of a cool feature of the game.
“I think more guys are going to try it, if they get time. The more they do it, the coaches and the goalies will get a bit smarter and figure out how to defend it if it becomes a common theme. As of right now, it’s so rare, tip your hat to the guy and put him on the highlight shows for the month.” – Ottawa’s Craig Anderson
“Honestly I don’t mind it. I think it’s entertaining for the audience, it brings more attention to the game. If guys are skilled enough to pull it off at game speed, it’s up to us goalies to stop the puck. I mean, they’re not slamming the stick at us, it’s a little tap in, but maybe if guys started coming around and taking a full swing at us, that’s something different. But so far it’s just a little tap on the mask, it doesn’t hurt us.” – Ottawa’s Anders Nilsson
“It’s not a high stick – it’s a skill play. If a guy has the wherewithal and skill to pull that off, good for him. I’m sure he’s practised that 100 times, probably more. If you can pull that off in a game all the power to you. I’ve got no problem with it.
“There’s nothing illegal about it right now. He’s well within his rights to do it. I don’t see any reason to take it out of the game – it makes it exciting.” – Calgary’s Cam Talbot
“It was a good play, but if someone is going to hit another player to the face it’s two minutes. He hit my face and then he put puck in the net and it’s a good goal. This is a point for me. It was a sick move by him, he earned it – great for him. But we have to figure out, OK – if the puck goes in clean, no worries. But if we are going to slash goalies right to the face before the puck goes in, that’s a question for the NHL.” – Calgary’s David Rittich
“Yeah, you know, you could get slapped in the face pretty hard [smiles]. But let’s see. It hasn’t happened too much.” – Vegas’s Marc-Andre Fleury
“No, I wouldn’t mark it [as a dangerous attempt]. I mean, maybe some guys think so, but if we take a 100-mile-an-hour slap shot in the face and it doesn’t hurt, then a stick to the mask like that won’t do anything. I get it, like, with the eyes and stuff with the blade. But I guess we’ll cross that bridge. We’ll see. I don’t think it’s that dangerous.” – Los Angeles’s Jack Campbell
How do you defend a shot like this?
“You slash his stick. Or, get it before it gets to the net. You’ve got to get the puck off his stick before he gets an opportunity to sling it in there. I think it’s happened once in my whole career. Where a guy actually tries it, and doesn’t get blown up.” – Mike Smith
“I think you just try to cover up as much as possible with your arm and your shoulder, depending on if you have the time to get your blocker up or not. That was pretty impressive how little space there actually was [on Svechnikov’s goal against Rittich]… it was very close to his head, I think there was just enough room for a puck to go by there.” – Frederik Andersen
You can try to knock the puck off their stick before they get to the net. But you don’t really want to extend yourself (behind the net). If you can, you could also bring your (catching) glove across, kind of beat him to the post and stop it that way. – Thatcher Demko
Not sure, back in the day goalies were on their feet a bit more. Now, they’re on their knees more. It’s such a low percentage play that you’re better off playing the percentages. The only thing you can do is maybe force the guy, pressure him, because I mean it’s pretty tough to do even in practice, when there’s no pressure. The guy in Carolina had time to flip it on to his stick and then bring it out…so take away time and space. Be aware of your surroundings and that old adage – expect the unexpected. – Craig Anderson
It’s pretty tough because they tuck it just under the crossbar. You have to be really tall to get your shoulder up there (while on your knees). You almost have to lean in with your head, and you don’t want to stand up, either, because then the puck just trickles down and goes in five-hole or something. So it’s tricky to defend. There are more and more skill guys able to do it and it’s something us goalies have to be aware of when they have the puck behind the net. – Anders Nilsson
“Throw your head against the crossbar [laughs]. That’s pretty much it. That’s the only place he’s looking to put it unless he’s going all the way around you. I thought Ritter had pretty much everything covered, he just put it between his head and the post – there’s isn’t much else you can do as a goaltender. It’s a frustrating goal to allow because there’s really nothing else you can do.” – Cam Talbot
“It’s a tough one [to defend]. I think maybe if you move your feet, you have a better chance of covering the top part. But then he goes five-hole, right, because you’re standing up. So maybe your D comes along and slashes his stick or something. That’s probably the best way to do it.” – Marc-Andre Fleury
“You know what? I think Filip Forsberg tried it during our home opener. But our defenceman [Sean Walker] did a good job playing it well. He came back to knock it off his blade before he could pick it all the way up. But it’s a tough play. I mean, it’s hard to defend as a goalie or player just because it happens so quick and there’s so many skilled guys in the league who can do it. Like, I’m pretty sure [Auston] Matthews almost had one. It’s scary. You just gotta be ready for it now, you know? That’s a good play.” – Jack Campbell
— With files from: Mark Spector, Wayne Scanlan, Eric Francis, Iain MacIntyre and Luke Fox.