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Goalies have short time to adjust to pad length

by Kevin Woodley /

VANCOUVER -- Rule changes to goaltending equipment will have an impact on the 2013-14 NHL season.

Most notably, the maximum height for goaltender's pads has been reduced by an average of 2 inches, meaning many goalies will have to alter to some degree the way they play the game.

How much of an impact, and for how long, is a big question heading into this season. The answer varies from goalie to goalie, depending on the amount of pad height lost and style of play.

Edmonton Oilers goalie Jason LaBarbera said he was a bit shocked when he saw his shorter pads for the first time.

"My buddies who play rec league said they look like street hockey pads," LaBarbera told on the eve of training camp.

The previous rule, instituted prior to the 2010-11 season, was that a goalie's leg pads could not go higher on his leg than 55 percent of the distance between the center of his knee and his pelvis. If a goalie's upper-leg measurement was 20 inches, roughly the average number in the NHL, the pad could not go higher than 11 inches above the center of his knee.

That number is now be 45 percent, so the same goalie will be able to wear a pad that goes no higher than 9 inches above his knee.

LaBarbera lost an inch-and-a-half, but considering a goalie uses the top of his pads to close the five-hole when he drops to the ice, the cumulative 3-inch gap was definitely noticeable in the butterfly.

"I was blown away," LaBarbera said. "When I put them beside my old pads, I was like, 'This is crazy.' Then when I started wearing them I was like, 'This is nuts.' It was insane how much different it was. I think it will have an impact early, big time."

LaBarbera's reaction was among the most emphatic, but he said he expects goalies to adjust quickly and, much like the prior major crackdown in 2005-06, agrees with many of his peers who believe they will get faster and better in smaller pads.

"Guys will adapt," said LaBarbera, who skated four times in his smaller pads before training camp. "My balance was off a bit at first because it was such a change, but the more you get used to it, the less bogged down you are, and honestly I found myself making more athletic kind of saves rather than just blocking type of saves. … You feel like you have more freedom."

That's not to say there won't be an adjustment period, especially because some goalies don't have their new pads. Delays in finalizing the rules set some equipment manufacturers behind.

"Going to be a quick adjustment straight into camp," said Jake Allen of the St. Louis Blues, adding he hoped to get his pads by Thursday. "No nervousness. I'm more anxious than anything. I don't think it will be a huge difference, more so protection, with knee and thigh vulnerable, when you're not in a proper butterfly. I think I'll be OK to adjust."

That adjustment will be different for every goalie.

"When I put them beside my old pads, I was like, 'This is crazy.' Then when I started wearing them I was like, 'This is nuts.' It was insane how much different it was. I think it will have an impact early, big time."
-- Edmonton Oilers goalie Jason LaBarbera on the new goalie pads length

Roberto Luongo of the Vancouver Canucks hadn't worn his new pads on the eve of camp either, but because he wasn't playing at his previous maximum pad height he expects to lose less than half an inch. Others, including Canucks backup candidate Joacim Eriksson, who recently played a prospects tournament in his old pads, may not be so lucky.

"It's a big adjustment," Luongo said. "You need to have those pads in August."

Four of Luongo's puck-stopping peers got their pads when Reebok and CCM held a goalie summit Aug. 20. Corey Crawford of the Chicago Blackhawks, Marc-Andre Fleury of the Pittsburgh Penguins, Jonathan Bernier of the Toronto Maple Leafs, and Jean-Sebastien Giguere of the Colorado Avalanche lost about 2 inches each, but Giguere's pads looked smallest.

"I am a little bit surprised how much," Giguere said. "First of all, I voted yes for the change, which probably will surprise a bunch of people, but I think I need to get remeasured because I think it is awfully short."

Judging by the amount of tinkering going on that day in Montreal, there will be adjustments for everyone, but style of play will determine how much.

Some, like Bernier and Fleury, use his pads to close the five-hole, kicking his feet out to the side in a wide butterfly to bring the tops of those pads together in front of him. For some, it may simply be a matter of flaring out those skates. For others, that may not be physiologically possible, leaving him with a bigger five-hole and knees more exposed to puck impact.

As a result, the first adjustment for many will be adding bigger kneepads, something Fleury and LaBarbera mentioned right away.

The challenge, LaBarbera added, is that it can be a big change for goalies who never wore kneepads because their old leg pads provided enough coverage.

Giguere has always exposed his knees on purpose because he plays with a narrow butterfly, with his skates tucking behind him more when he drops to the ice, and his knees (not his leg pads) facing the shooter. As a result, despite having the shortest-looking pads, Giguere appeared to have the easiest adjustment at the Goalie Summit in Montreal.

"The way I play with the blocking style, which probably drives the NHL crazy, this is not going to change it," he said.

Jean-Sebastien Giguere
J.S. Giguere - 2012-13 STATS
Goalie - COL
RECORD: 5-4-4
GAA: 2.84 | SVP: 0.908
It's possible more goalies will try to make more saves using Giguere's narrow butterfly, squeezing their kneepads tight instead of trying to flare the skates farther to the side, which is harder on the hips and knees.

Crawford plays in between the two styles, with his old pads closing well out in front of him, forming a triangle to trap pucks that bounced off his body. After losing a little more than 2 inches off his pads, he admitted it wouldn't be as effective, but it could have been worse had the NHL also gotten its wish to eliminate his straight-style pad.

"I don't think it will be as effective as it was before but it's just something I have to play with and see what works and what doesn't," Crawford said. "No matter how much practice you get there are still game situations that you just kind of don't get a feel for in practice or scrimmage. ... It might affect it or it might not, we'll see when I get into a game."

Luongo uses narrow and wide stopping styles depending on the save situation.

"It's going to be different for everybody," he said. "It depends on what type of knee guards you wear. You have to have good protection to make sure that when you go down in the butterfly you don't want to have a hole there. You want a guy to beat you because he beat you with speed. It's going to be different for every guy until they figure it out."

The question will be how long it takes each goalie to do so.

"I only wore them once and it was definitely shorter for the five-hole but I was feeling OK about it," Rangers backup Martin Biron told late Tuesday. "Now talk to me in four weeks after the pads break down and maybe I'll change my tune."

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