Goalies: The Puck Stops Here!

They took away their stuffed shirts, cut the corners off their goal creases and made it tougher for them to play the puck behind their nets by tacking on a couple of extra feet back there.

The plan was to make it harder on goaltenders and easier for snipers around the league to score.

Guess what? The goalies are still standing their ground.

As of Oct. 24, scoring around the league was down from last season (from 5.2 a year ago to 4.9).

"Teams will work on it and come up with strategies," Detroit Red Wings coach Scotty Bowman said. "It's going to take some time (for the rule changes to affect the game)."

Maybe until the current crop of goaltenders retire.

With the likes of Dominik Hasek, Martin Brodeur, Curtis Joseph, Patrick Roy">, Mike Richter, John Vanbiesbrouck and Chris Osgood standing guard around the league, perhaps nothing short of forcing them to play with one hand tied behind their backs will increase scoring, which sunk to its lowest level in more than 40 years last season (5.28 goals a game).

"One thing you can't control is trends," NHL director of hockey operations Colin Campbell told The Hockey News recently. "And maybe this is a trend."

No doubt about it, stellar goaltending is a trend that's here to stay for a while.

mike richter
Mike Richter is allowing only 2.64 goals per game this season. (AP)

The New York Rangers-Buffalo Sabres game Tuesday featured a classic mano-a-mano duel between Richter and Hasek.

The game -- played at Madison Square Garden in New York in front of a national television audience -- was the league's worst nightmare come true: a scoreless tie. Thirty-nine total shots in 65 minutes of hockey, no goals.

"It would have been 3-2 if not for the goalies," Sabres forward Matthew Barnaby said. "These two guys are good goalies. They're expected to play that way."

Great expectations for great players. Not since the days of Terry Sawchuk, Harry Lumley and Glenn Hall have we seen this kind of goaltending.

Know what? We should enjoy it instead of complaining about it.

Just because a game ends 0-0 or 1-0 doesn't make it any less exciting than a 6-2 contest. Watching Hasek flp around the ice, swatting away every puck that comes his way for 60 minutes can be just as entertaining as seeing a Sergei Fedorov breakaway goal.

Case in point: My father-in-law and I were watching the Red Wings and Montreal Canadiens play on television last weekend. He doesn't watch much hockey; seems the high salaries today's athletes make turned him off to all professional sports years ago. But he gave in, consenting to "waste away" an evening with me.

The game, a 3-0 victory by the Red Wings, was a goaltending duel between Osgood and Jocelyn Thibault for the first two periods. I was worried Dad would lose interest, but he didn't. In fact, he commented the guys in net were "amazing." He had never seen such reflexes before.

Turns out the night wasn't wasted after all. Dad liked what he saw, particularly the goaltending, and said he might watch this "hockey stuff" again.

You see, scoring isn't as important as the league makes it out to be. Hockey isn't like World Cup soccer, where the goalkeeper rarely is tested and most of the game is played at midfield.

In hockey -- even though most NHL teams have implemented defensive systems such as the neutral-zone trap -- the goalies earn their paychecks and are entertaining as well. They kick, catch, flop and do the splits all game long. They are some of the best athletes in the world and deserve high praise, not more rule changes to make it more difficult on them.

As for the recent rule changes, the golden age of goaltending is proving them worthless. In fact, some goalies say they've benefited from them.

"Actually, I kind of like it," Osgood said of the standardized equipment. "I feel lighter out there, and I'm moving quicker."

Wonder how Osgood would feel if the league took his stick and gloves away? That might be the only way to beat these guys.

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