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NHL goalies making adjustments to new controversial chest protector

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NHL goalies making adjustments to new controversial chest protector

SAN JOSE -- Over the course of a 12-year career as an NHL goalie, Sharks goaltending coach Johan Hedberg said he only changed his chest protector twice. 

“The one when I retired, there was nothing left,” Hedberg said in a phone interview with NBC Sports California. “[It was] like a wet sweater pretty much.”

Were he still playing, Hedberg would wear his third this season. Goalies around the league are wearing new, streamlined chest protectors under an updated rule from the NHL and the NHLPA in an effort to increase scoring and enforce uniform standards among netminders. The chest protector is the latest piece of goalie equipment to be regulated, following the shrinking of the leg pads and pants. 

Specifically, the chest and arm pads “must be anatomically proportional and size-specific” based on the goalies’ bodies. The result is more form-fitting, with slimmed down arms and strict regulations for padding around the shoulders and collarbone.

“Everybody’s got the same, level playing field,” Hedberg said. “I see no [downside] on shrinking some of the stuff, and just making it smarter where you do have the protection, but you’re not covering anything but your body.”

Early in the season, some goalies have questioned whether or not there is still enough protection, specifically in the arms and shoulders. 

Columbus Blue Jackets goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky told the Columbus Dispatch last month he had bruised arms and elbows for the first time in his career, and called the changes “terrible.” Goalies Braden Holtby, Brian Elliott, and James Reimer, among others, have also shared safety concerns.

Greg Balloch, a writer for the goalie-centric publication InGoal Magazine, saw this coming to some degree. This summer, he watched AHL goalie Ken Appleby in the new chest protector take a routine shot from an NHL player in a drill, only to cut it short. He said he understands why the goalies worry, since they face so many shots in practice. 

“You want to be protected,” Balloch said in a phone interview. "You're playing in the best hockey league in the world and these guys seem to find spots that normal shooters don't. And you know if you're not well protected, then it can be dangerous.”

Sharks goaltender Martin Jones said last week he hasn’t had any problems adjusting to the new equipment, while backup Aaron Dell said he’s “only had a couple of issues.”

“I have kind of noticed on the outer shoulders I get a couple more stingers and things like that,” Dell said last week at the Sharks’ practice facility. “For the most part, it’s not too different.”

Dell said he’s used to the changes now, but he only started practicing with his new chest protector “a week or two” before training camp. Joonas Korpisalo, who is Bobrovsky’s backup, told NBC Sports California last week that his came in days before his first preseason game. 

That’s perhaps because the approval process is far more involved. The league now scans all the chest protectors for compliance with a 3D scanner, NHL goaltending supervisor Kay Whitmore told InGoal this summer. 

The season is barely a month old, but goal-scoring is up. Teams are averaging 3.10 goals per game, an increase of 0.13 over last season. Whether that holds, or is driven at all by the rule changes, is unclear. 

Despite it all, goalies are adjusting. Korpisalo said the manufacturer of his chest protector was very responsive to his initial feedback, as was the case with his peers. 

“I think there’s a lot of guys who have the same problems,” Korpisalo said last week when the Blue Jackets were in the Bay Area. “Even before Sergei said that, we knew there [were] a lot of goalies who agree. … A lot of goalies, it helped to change manufacturers, find [the right chest protector]. For me, it worked.”

It remains to be seen if the controversy surrounding the chest protectors will persist. Hedberg thought a lot of the shortcomings, particularly in the shoulders, can “easily be fixed” without making the pads bigger.

Despite the public backlash, many goalies are in favor of the idea behind the rule, if not the execution.  Dissatisfaction with the new rules is driven by safety concerns, not about their save percentages and goals against averages, according to Balloch.

“They want the talent to rise to the surface,” Balloch said. “They don't want somebody succeeding just because of the gear. … They trust in their ability and the fact that they’ll be able to adapt.”

Scoreboard not indicative of Sharks' effort in 6-3 loss vs. Lightning

Scoreboard not indicative of Sharks' effort in 6-3 loss vs. Lightning

After a hot streak that churned out seven consecutive wins, the Sharks have lost two games in a row. But don’t be mistaken -- the losses against the Arizona Coyotes and Tampa Bay Lightning were definitely not the same.

Wednesday’s contest against the Coyotes was one of San Jose’s least inspired games of the season. Saturday’s contest against the Lightning, on the other hand, was a significantly better effort. 

“I didn’t think the score was super indicative of how the game went,” Evander Kane told the media after the 6-3 defeat. “I thought we carried the play, to be honest, for most of the game.”

He wasn’t wrong. San Jose pushed the tempo for a good chunk of Saturday’s game before Tampa Bay gained some late momentum and built up their lead. While the Sharks fell to the Lightning, there were positives -- as well as lessons learned -- they can take away from a season series that consisted of two playoff-caliber games.

“I thought it was a little bit of an opportunistic game for them,” Kane continued. “Every time they got an opportunity, it seemed (like it went) in the back of our net.”

Head coach Peter DeBoer agreed. “We made some mistakes, I think mental mistakes tonight, taking some penalties when we didn’t need to,” he explained. “A couple decisions you can’t make against an opportunistic team like that. Having said that, I thought when we had it at 2-2 we had a couple opportunities to grab control of the game.”

The Sharks certainly showed they hadn’t lost their composure when the Lightning jumped out to an early 2-0 lead. Thanks to a two-goal effort from Kane -- one at the end of the first frame and another to open up the second -- San Jose was able to tie things up. In the end, they outshot Tampa Bay and were better in the faceoff circle. 

However, the Sharks also got into some penalty trouble which gave the Bolts the opportunities they needed to retake the lead and create some breathing room on the scoreboard. A tandem of penalties gave Tampa Bay just 17 seconds of five-on-three power play time, but it was enough time for them to gain momentum, and reigning Norris Trophy winner Victor Hedman found the back of the net during the resulting five-on-four.

Hedman’s marker gave the Lightning another two-goal lead, which was easily the turning point in the game. The Sharks kept pushing but couldn’t beat Tampa Bay netminder Andrei Vasilevskiy. “We had some chances that didn’t go in,” Kane admitted.

Clearly, this was a game the Sharks never felt out of, especially since they defeated the Lightning in San Jose just a couple weeks ago. There was some speculation that Erik Karlsson’s sudden absence from the lineup was a factor. Kane pointed out when asked about it by the press that the Sharks expected to put up a winning effort nonetheless.

[RELATED: Sharks without Karlsson (late scratch) vs. Lightning]

“It’s a loss but it’s not an excuse,” Kane said. “We played with three guys who are normally not in the lineup against [Tampa] at home and beat them.”

The Sharks now have to take what they learned from the loss and apply it to the last two games of this road trip. They have yet another back-to-back -- this time against Florida and Washington -- before the All-Star break.

“We’ll move on and regroup and get ready for Monday,” Kane said.

Sharks takeaways: What we learned in 6-3 loss to league-best Lightning

Sharks takeaways: What we learned in 6-3 loss to league-best Lightning

It was another fast-paced game between the Sharks and the Lightning on Saturday night in Tampa Bay. But despite Evander Kane scoring two goals, this game didn’t go San Jose's way.

The Sharks put up a strong effort for the bulk of the contest but were defeated by Steven Stamkos and the NHL-leading Bolts 6-3.

Here are three takeaways from the game:

You shouldn’t point the finger at Martin Jones

Jones gave the Sharks another effort worthy of a win, picking up right where he left off Tuesday night against the Pittsburgh Penguins. He was particularly impressive when he froze both Steven Stamkos and Ondrej Palat on one shift in the first frame, then halted Nikita Kucherov during a second-period penalty kill.

Had Jones not been on his A-game right from the start of the contest, Tampa Bay might have tallied more than two goals in the first period before San Jose found the back of the net. Unfortunately for Jones, he didn’t have quite enough help in front of him to hold off the Bolts as they capitalized on some of the Sharks’ mistakes in the second and third periods. 

Special teams ended up having a big impact

You could tell early in the game that special teams would end up playing a big role.

Even though Tampa Bay scored two quick goals, San Jose had the edge in shots, and began getting more offensive zone time as the game progressed. If anything was going to give either team an extra boost, it was the special teams.

The Sharks' power play helped get them on the board before the first frame expired -- a beautiful sequence between Joe Thornton and Timo Meier to set up Kane. But the Bolts also benefited from the power play, scoring their fourth and sixth goals of the evening on the man advantage as San Jose started getting into penalty trouble. 

Impact of Karlsson’s absence

You have to hand it to San Jose for pushing the tempo despite Erik Karlsson’s sudden absence. They continued to get good offensive zone time and put pucks on net despite Andrei Vasilevkiy standing tall between the pipes for Tampa Bay.

As of game time, there was no news on what exactly Karlsson’s ailment is. While San Jose of course wants its star defenseman back in the lineup to help the team win games, it also isn’t going to want to push Karlsson and injure him even further.

With the All-Star break and bye week coming up, giving Karlsson enough time to heal could benefit the Sharks in the long run.