Nets reduced by four inches to help scoring; team's
physical conditioning solid; Elliott, Halak to get action this week
By LOUIE KORAC
ST. LOUIS -- The Blues played their first preseason game Sunday night with the NHL's new goals in place. It may not look like much, and some players may not feel a difference, but it's just enough of a reduction that can make a difference in a game.
The league has reduced the depth of the goals four inches from top to bottom and have squared off the corners of the posts. It's an effort to try and increase goal scoring, which was down to 5.3 goals per game -- nearly a goal per game (6.05) compared to the 2005-06 season.
So who really has an advantage, the forward or defenseman? Opinions seem to vary.
"I think it's the defenseman myself because there's more room to make a 'D' to 'D' pass (and) because there's a better chance for a cleaner indirect play," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. "I think it's pretty minimal, but I really believe the defenseman because I think you can make a direct pass now without bouncing it off the boards whereas before, it was pretty hard. Your stick had to be in perfect position to do it."
What it does more than anything, it gives ever so slightly more room to maneuver in "Gretzky's Office," which it's famously termed for the "Great One" himself and all the points he gobbled up in his career making a living behind the net.
"Everybody's talking about wraparounds and all that stuff, but it's not that many inches," Hitchcock said. "It is a lot when you're able to make a lateral pass back there. It might even affect down low power plays. You're going to be able to make lateral passes there, but I think it's more for the passing than it is for the wraparounds."
Blues goalie Jake Allen, who played the entire game Sunday, got a firsthand look at the new dimensions. He talked about the quicker pucks seem to get in and out of the net, and that was evident on Dallas' second goal -- scored by Kevin Connauton.
But in the grand scheme of things, Allen feels like the smaller dimensions should benefit both offense and defense.
"To be honest, I think both," Allen said when asked. "The d-man's got a little more space to wheel the net and make that quick turn up ice when, say, a forechecker's pressuring him and what not. A forward almost has some power to play with a little extra time, a little extra room.
"It's not a huge difference, but still, a few pucks can slip through there pretty easy. Even for myself, a goaltender, it's almost a bit easier to get a little bit more room behind the net if you handle the puck and what not. It's going to create more room on the ice and I think that's what the league's going for, so I think that's a positive thing."
Also, the corners of the goal posts are more squared than in previous seasons, where they were more well-rounded. What it might allow a puck to do more is when it hits a post, it will tend to go into the net as opposed to caroming out as is often the case.
"It's going to be that split second quicker," Allen said. "You're going to have to be on your toes there. The nets didn't change width-wise or height-wise. It's just depth-wise behind the net. It's definitely going to have its advantages for forwards, but also for your own team as well. It goes both ways I think.
"For me, it doesn't make a whole lot of difference. I just think it's opened up the game for the forwards and the players. I think it's going to carry a bit more excitement around the net, especially give those slow guys extra bit of time."
Defenseman Ian Cole, who also played Sunday's game, doesn't see much of a difference one way or the other. And he makes a strong case since the goal mouth itself will remain the same (six feet wide by four feet high, or 24 square feet).
"As far as four inches around, it's four and five inches in, what, five and six feet," Cole said. "It's not that much. I didn't really notice it necessarily. I guess it makes a difference.
"Who has the advantage? Whoever uses it better. ... Four inches in hockey seemingly isn't that much. If you reach out for a puck and you miss it by two inches and the guy one-times it and scores and you lose the game, that four inches is a big deal. But at the same time, the net is still in the same spot, it's still one net."
* NOTES -- The Blues' body conditioning reports that the team on average has a body-fat percentage of 9.38, which is the lowest it's been in nine years. The average weight for players under one-year contracts -- or players who will remain in St. Louis -- is 207.4 pounds.
Goalie Jaroslav Halak, who began the season at 13.5 percent, is now down to eight percent. The lowest on the team, one asks: Chris Porter, who comes in at a robust 5.7 percent body-fat. Alex Pietrangelo is next at six percent.
-- Hitchcock said Monday that Brian Elliott will play in the next two exhibition games against the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Elliott will play at least the first two periods, according to Hitchcock, and possibly the entire game Wednesday in Orlando, while Halak will do the same when the two teams meet here at Scottrade Center Friday.
The practice units and line combinations at practice Monday and Tuesday will be the groups that play the next couple games.
"Those line combinations are going to play in the next two games," Hitchcock said. "A couple of them will play in Orlando against Tampa and ... we're going to play a veteran lineup on Friday and Saturday night."
-- In the preseason win over Dallas, Jay Bouwmeester (27:23) and Kevin Shattenkirk (26:45) led all players in time on ice. Magnus Paajarvi led the Blues, who saw each player with at least a shot on goal, with four shots. Roman Polak was the lead leader in hits with six, and Maxim Lapierre, who tallied two goals, was the team leader in the faceoff circle, winning 10 of 17 draws, or 59 percent.