Leonard: The NHL can't mask this problem for the goalies

PITTSBURGH – Alain Vigneault has seen an injury like Henrik Lundqvist’s once before. The Rangers coach can’t place the last time he saw a hockey player’s stick poke a goalie in the eye through his mask, but Vigneault did remember his reaction when he first saw it happen.

“I do remember asking myself at the same time, like, how can a stick go through that little hole there?” Vigneault said Tuesday morning at the team hotel in Pittsburgh.

In other words, the 15th winningest coach in NHL regular season history has the same question that every fan sitting on their couch had when Rangers defenseman Marc Staal’s stick inadvertently poked its blade into Lundqvist’s right eye in the first period of Wednesday night’s 5-2 Game 1 loss to the Penguins:

The masks worn by Henrik Lundqvist and other NHL netminders aren't getting the job done.Jared Silber/NHLI via Getty Images

The masks worn by Henrik Lundqvist and other NHL netminders aren’t getting the job done.

How is that possible?

It’s a reasonable question. Why would a goalie mask have a hole gaping so wide that a stick could get through? Could a puck sneak through, too?

If the modern mask allows for this type of injury, why not just go back to the simple, white, fiberglass goalie mask worn by the Montreal Canadiens’ Jacques Plante in 1959, a design that eventually found its way into the horror film industry on Jason in ‘Halloween?’

Well, any kid who has played goalie in his driveway can tell you that those simple masks allow for little peripheral vision. And of course, the folks at a company like Bauer, which produces all of Lundqvist’s gear, are in the business of advancing this technology to the best combination of safety and performance possible.

Henrik Lunqvist has the tip of a teammates' stick get through his mask, forcing him from game.Gene J. Puskar/AP

Henrik Lunqvist has the tip of a teammates’ stick get through his mask, forcing him from game.

Athletes are constantly pushing the envelope to have a say in what they wear and what suits them, too.

Still, it would seem that Bauer or any equipment company’s first priority when building a goalie mask would be to ensure that no pucks or sticks can reach the goalie’s eyes through his cage. In addition to building these masks for optimal protection upon impact of shots, what could be more important?

Safety, not looks, needs to be the top priority for Henrik Lundqvist and his fellow netminders.Patrick Smith/Getty Images

Safety, not looks, needs to be the top priority for Henrik Lundqvist and his fellow netminders.

“All I can say is especially at that position, everything that has to do with security that our staff and the NHL can do to protect the goaltenders, they try and do,” Vigneault said. “There’s not much more than that I can say.”

Still, how strange is it that this already happened once this season, to Penguins starter Marc-Andre Fleury, on Nov. 11 while facing the Montreal Canadiens? Fleury was poked through his mask by teammate Ben Lovejoy’s stick, battling for position with an opponent in front, just as Staal had been Wednesday prior to poking Lundqvist.

The major difference between those situations? Fleury snapped at Lovejoy as the Pens defenseman bent down to talk to his goalie. Lundqvist on Wednesday seemed more understanding about the play’s fluke nature.

Still, it’s tough to understand why it has to happen at all.

Tags:
nhl ,
new york rangers ,
alain vigneault ,
henrik lundqvist ,
sports injuries ,
marc staal ,
nhl playoffs

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