ST. LOUIS — Connor Hellebuyck was ready. It had been 49 days since Andrei Svechnikov successfully pulled off the lacrosse shot against Flames goaltender David Rittich. So when the Hurricanes forward took the puck behind the Winnipeg net, the Jets goaltender was prepared.
But Svechnikov was too quick and stuffed it into the top corner just past Hellebuyck’s blocker. The goaltender couldn’t believe it.
“To be honest, I was aware when I got scored on and I thought I played it perfectly and it still bounced in,” Hellebuyck told NBC Sports during NHL All-Star Weekend. “Not very happy about that being a goalie. I’ve got in my mind how I’d like to play that next time and I hope it doesn’t happen again to me.”
The lacrosse shot, invented by Bill Armstrong and made world famous by Mike Legg, has been in hockey for a long time. Players all around the world and at various levels of the game have successfully pulled it off. Yet NHL players hadn’t been brave enough to try on a regular basis until Svechnikov’s goal. Now, he’s done it twice, Filip Forsberg scored with it two weeks ago, and it’s becoming a thing.
Only three goals have been scored with the move, but the number of attempts have increased. If you’re an NHL goalie, you’ve now got to be ready for it.
“Honestly, I think every single goalie has to be aware right now because everyone’s trying,” said Rittich. “For example, Matt [Tkachuk] just tried a couple nights [ago] when we played in Toronto. I think everyone should be aware. This league is pretty good. Every single guy has got skill. Every single guy can do it. You kind of have to be aware.”
“Guys’ skills nowadays is crazy,” said Canucks goaltender Jacob Markstrom. “For sure, you’re aware of it … there’s been a couple of times there’s a player maybe you see out of the corner of your eye [and you] try to pick it up. I’ve been fortunate enough, but knock on wood it doesn’t happen to me.”
Now that it’s become a bit of a trend in the NHL, it’s not only goalies who need to be aware. Defensemen have to be ready as well since they have a better line of sight to behind the net than their goaltender.
“It is a tough position when you’re on your knees or looking the other way when you’re squared up to it,” said Maple Leafs goaltender Frederik Andersen.
As the lacrosse move gains fans among NHL skaters, the league has reminded officials such attempts could be considered high-sticking. As long as the stick is below the shoulders and crossbar then such goals will stand.
There’s also the potential issue of a swinging stick moving toward a goaltender down on their knees protecting the net. The NHL rulebook says that “accidental contact” on a high-stick is allowed “if the act is committed as a normal windup or follow through of a shooting motion.” But there’s a difference of opinion from the goalie union on the move if it’s a potential safety issue.
“No, not really. It’s such a fast and physical game,” said Markstrom. “I’m not worried about that at all, to be honest. It still counts as one goal. It doesn’t count as two. As long as it stays that way I think it’s going to be more normal goals.”
Said Hellebuyck: “I don’t want to call it a safety issue but if a stick definitely comes across our face, it should be high-sticking, it should be no goal. I believe the one on Rittich was through his facemask, so for me I would call that a high-stick and no goal, but we’re not used to that rule yet so the game’s going to have to change a little bit.”
The NHL is always looking at ways to increase scoring and here’s a popular move players are trying. But if the lacrosse move becomes a regular shot option for skaters will we see goalies raise safety concerns about it?
“You’ve got to look at it at some point because you can’t ignore it,” said Andersen. “But so far, so good. No one’s gotten hurt by it. If goalies start getting hurt you’ve got to take a look at it, like with anything else.”