Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Charging the Net

After tonight's game against the downtrodden and desperate Florida Panthers, a game which included two Avalanche goals in the final minute of regulation with Craig Anderson pulled for the extra man, I can't help but think the growing problem of opposing forwards charging the net is quickly coming to a head. And by "head" I mean the one perched upon Anderson's shoulders which was smacked by Keith Ballard in the closing minute of overtime.

For those of us who have played keeper in even the lowest of beer leagues it is easy to sympathize with the plight of the Avalanche goalie. Having been kicked, jumped upon, and maimed by round and clumsy 30 and 40-something's on skates it is never a good experience, and I have the bad back and shattered knees to prove it. I can only imagine what it is like to be wrapped around a goal post by 225 pounds of muscle charging at 30 miles per hour.

For Ballard, who managed to rush past the entire Avalanche squad in a desperate attempt to gain his team two points on the night, charging directly at Anderson's left post was the only option available. Having known many defenseman I can understand Ballard's choice of direction considering most defenders, even at the NHL level, have maybe one or two shots in their bag of tricks.

It hasn't been an easy week for Ballard in the public relations department, as he managed to put his own goalie, Thomas Vokoun out on Monday with a clumsy and anger fueled slash to the head following an Ilya Kovalchuk goal. Yet his latest endeavor involving a goalie has me applauding the retaliation by another defenseman, Adam Foote. A retaliation which featured Foote pummeling the prone Ballard after he steamrolled the defenseless Anderson.

In light of this season's trend of opposing players running into, over, and through goaltenders, and considering the scattershot approach of the NHL in enforcing existing rules, there seems to be little in the way of actual protection for goaltenders. One could argue that with new developments in goalie equipment that keepers have never been safer, but try explaining that to a goalie like Cam Ward, who not but three weeks ago was treated to the displeasure of Rick Nash accidentally lacerating his right quadriceps with a skate after a save.

The fact of the matter is that goaltending is the most difficult and dangerous position in the most difficult and dangerous of sports. But outside of commissioning warhorses like Foote to punish those who would charge goaltenders in the now speedier and even more dangerous NHL, there may be little else in the way of actually providing consistent protection to the men between the pipes until the league decides to act accordingly.

A league, mind you, that is intent on reducing the size of goaltender equipment, which in and of itself does little to prevent an injury when struck by another human being traveling at a high rate of speed.

In the case of Ballard, he was charged with a two minute goaltender interference penalty, but that won't do much to ease the ringing sensation in the head of Craig Anderson.

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