Goalies react to rise of the lacrosse shot in the NHL

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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.

Safety issue?

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.”

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Coaching carousel leaves 10 NHL teams with new face on bench

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The coaching carousel spun a little faster than usual across the NHL, meaning nearly a third of the league will have someone new behind the bench this season. And not just bottom-feeders making changes.

Ten teams go into the season next month with a new coach, from Presidents’ Trophy-winning Florida and perennial playoff-contending Boston to rebuilding Chicago and San Jose.

John Tortorella will try to whip Philadelphia into shape, Bruce Cassidy is tasked with getting Vegas back to the playoffs and Derek Lalonde takes his two Stanley Cup rings as a Tampa Bay assistant to his new challenge with the Detroit Red Wings.

TORTS REFORM

Philadelphia players knew they were in for some changes when Tortorella was hired, so they asked Cam Atkinson, who spent six years playing for the no-nonsense coach in Columbus.

“I keep telling them like he’s a guy that’s going to change the whole dynamic of this organization,” Atkinson said.

Tortorella has not shied away from saying a culture change is needed after a last-place finish and a decade with one playoff series win. There is likely not much he and players can do this year about a Cup drought that dates to 1975, but they can start with maddeningly inconsistent stretches of games that have plagued the Flyers for years, no matter the roster.

BIG MO

The Panthers were the league’s best team in the regular season last year but struggled in the playoffs before losing in the second round to cross-state rival Tampa Bay in five games. That was enough for general manager Bill Zito to decide to move on from interim coach Andrew Brunette and hired seasoned veteran Paul Maurice.

The expectation is to get back to the playoffs and compete for the Cup, and having Maurice at the helm was one of the factors that made power forward Matthew Tkachuk pick Florida as his trade-and-sign destination.

“He’s got high hopes for our team,” Tkachuk said. “He sees us playing in a certain way that’s going to make us successful. And he’s done it. He’s been around the NHL a long time, been a very successful head coach and somebody that I’m really looking forward to working with.”

PLAYOFF ROTATION

Bruins GM Don Sweeney fired Cassidy after a seven-game loss to Carolina in the first round despite Boston’s sixth consecutive playoff appearance.

Vegas had already fired Peter DeBoer, making him the scapegoat for an injury-riddled fall from the top of the Western Conference that ended with the team’s first playoff miss in five years of existence. The Golden Knights quickly turned to Cassidy, who like Maurice brings experience and gravitas to a franchise with championship aspirations.

“I think we’re very fortunate as an organization to have him as our coach,” center Jack Eichel said. “Every single person I’ve spoke to about them, they said the same thing: that he’s got a really, really great knack for the game and to able to make adjustments and he understands things. Very, very competitive — wants to win, has won a lot of hockey games over the last few years.”

The Bruins replaced Cassidy with Jim Montgomery, a hockey lifer getting a second chance after being fired by Dallas in December 2019 for inappropriate conduct. Montgomery sought and received help at a rehab facility and got a big endorsement from the staff with St. Louis, the team he was working for as an assistant.

“He’s a winner,” Bruins goalie Jeremy Swayman said. “I think guys are going to thrive on that energy.”

The Stars completed the circle by hiring DeBoer, who has coached two teams (New Jersey in 2012 and San Jose in 2016) to the final and is on his fifth stop around the league.

“This is a tough league and it’s a tough one to coach in and you have to be able to handle situations,” GM Jim Nill said. “I know Pete can do it.”

LAMBERT ISLAND

Lane Lambert served as an assistant under Barry Trotz with Nashville, Washington – where they won the Cup together – and the Islanders. When Trotz was abruptly fired after New York missed the playoffs for the first time in his four seasons on the job, his right-hand man got the gig with his endorsement.

Longtime executive Lou Lamoriello thought his team needed a new voice. But Lambert isn’t that new, and his familiarity with the Islanders keeps some continuity.

“Barry was great for our team, and having Lane as an assistant, he had lots of say, as well,” forward Mathew Barzal said. “As a group, we all have a good relationship with him, so I think it’ll be an easy transition for our team.”

MORE NEW VOICES

The final coaching change of the offseason came in San Jose, with ownership and interim management firing Bob Boughner and his assistants before Mike Grier took over as GM. Grier hired David Quinn, who most recently coached the U.S. at the Beijing Olympics after spending three years with the Rangers.

Rick Bowness, the Stars’ interim coach when Montgomery was fired who helped them reach the final in 2020 and was not brought back, joined Winnipeg. He immediately made an impact by stripping Blake Wheeler of the Jets captaincy.

The other new coaches – Lalonde in Detroit and Luke Richardson in Chicago – are not expected to make such big waves.

Richardson, who briefly was acting coach for Montreal during the 2021 final when Dominique Ducharme tested positive for the coronavirus, is overseeing the start of a long-term rebuild by the Blackhawks. Lalonde was Red Wings GM Steve Yzerman’s pick to help end the storied franchise’s playoff drought.

“He believes in what he’s preaching, which I think is great walking into a new locker room,” captain Dylan Larkin said. “He’s made a great impression on the guys.”

Islanders agree to terms with Mathew Barzal on 8-year extension

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Mathew Barzal has agreed to terms with the New York Islanders on an eight-year extension, a move that keeps the franchise’s top forward under contract for the balance of his prime.

The deal is worth $73.2 million with an annual salary cap hit of $9.15 million, according to a person with knowledge of the contract. The person spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the team did not announce terms.

Barzal has led the team in scoring, or been tied for the lead, every season since he became a full-time NHL player in 2017-18. He has 349 points in 411 regular-season and playoff games for the defensively stingy Islanders, who qualified for the postseason three consecutive times before an injury- and virus-altered last year.

“We feel recharged,” Barzal said recently. “We feel like everybody had good summers and worked hard, and we got that excitement back.”

Barzal, now 25, is coming off putting up 59 points in 75 games. The offensive star will now be asked to round out his game.

“I’m a fan because Mat has the ability to raise his game and to be a special player,” general manager Lou Lamoriello told reporters at the team’s practice facility on Long Island. “And now, with this contract and our faith in him, (it) puts that responsibility on him. We’re trusting that. It’s up to him to respond to that.”

Senators goaltender Cam Talbot out 5-7 weeks with injury

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OTTAWA, Ontario — Ottawa Senators goaltender Cam Talbot is expected to be out five to seven weeks with what the team called an upper-body injury.

The Senators initially called Talbot day to day with what they hoped was a minor injury. Instead he’s now expected to miss at least the first month of the NHL season.

Ottawa claimed goalie Magnus Hellberg off waivers from the Seattle Kraken upon announcing Talbot’s expected absence. Hellberg, who played for Sweden at the Beijing Olympics could split time with countryman Anton Forsberg while Talbot is out.

The Senators acquired Talbot from Minnesota during the offseason to make him their starter after the Wild opted against bringing him back along with Marc-Andre Fleury. Talbot, 35, had a 2.76 goals-against average and .911 save percentage this season.

Losing Talbot is a blow to the Senators, who also acquired winger Alex DeBrincat from Chicago and signed longtime Philadelphia Flyers captain Claude Giroux as part of a move toward contending and ending their playoff drought.

Blackhawks’ Boris Katchouk sidelined by ankle sprain

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CHICAGO — Blackhawks forward Boris Katchouk will be sidelined for four to six weeks with a left ankle sprain, the team announced.

The 24-year-old Katchouk played almost 12 minutes during a 3-0 preseason loss to Detroit on Saturday night. He was acquired in a multiplayer trade with Tampa Bay in March.

The Blackhawks open the season on Oct. 12 at Colorado.

The team also said forward Jujhar Khaira is day to day with a right ankle injury.