I wanted to explore in a little more depth the incident that precipitated Price's exit from the lineup. Much has been said about the accidental hit already. Far less about what can be done to help prevent this. I hope to touch on a bit of both.
First, let's look to the incident. Mere minutes into the second period of Game #1, Chris Kreider receives a loose puck in neutral ice and puts on a burst to absolutely stun the Canadiens defenders. Breaking through the middle with every intention of scoring, he gets a moment with the puck and shoots it just high of the top corner.
The slowed down video even shows a Canadiens defender trying to defend the play with his stick, that may have put Kreider off balance.
Nothing at all wrong with this. Taken in isolation, this was run of the mill breakaway stuff right?
Michel Therrien has the terminology on this one right. The play was very reckless. No one is saying a player should not try to score on a breakaway. But let's remember how few breakaways end in goalie pile-up and goalie or player injury.
Why do we suppose this is?
My supposition is that many players continue to maintain control of themselves even when on a breakaway. The escape route is planned whether there is goal or not, so that injury to self (probably the primary concern) and others is avoided.
Kreider has a hard case to make that he had anywhere to go but into the net. Even if he doesn't fall he has an awfully tight turn to make a split second after letting his shot go. I am sure some players could make the turn, but maybe not in every instance.
This is the recklessness of it all. Jim Hughson nailed it on the head in the moments after the play when he said:
"Chris Kreider has shown that he's not afraid at all to head for the net..."
Hughson's words ring even more true when you put together a little montage of net charges from the 2009 first rounder.
The pattern of play here seems to send those words echoing round and round. Kreider is not afraid.
I am sure we could present a montage like this for numerous players. But with a mere 120 games of a career so far, Kreider did this remarkably quickly.
The insinuation made by the mere construction of this montage, however, is that Kreider is more than just reckless. He picks his spots. Because beyond the pattern of not leaving a route of escape when being defended (something every forward cannot simply shrug off) is the impressive characters that were subject to collision with his enormous frame:
1) Craig Anderson -- setting a record pace for save percentage at the time (Injured)
2) Marc-Andre Fleury -- he of two shutouts that week and in process of somehow confounding the Rangers
3) Carey Price -- having great playoffs and big obstacle to Rangers progression
Amazing coincidence, the timing of his recklessness.
There is no remedy for the injuries that have happened. Let's look beyond. Are we really keen on watching a league in which the goalies should be so vulnerable to what is an unpenalizable, and (as we've found) uncondemnable play.
I know what my answer is.
Don Cherry, bearer of all wisdom (apparently he was instrumental in changing yet another aspect of rink safety) had a suggestion to stop forwards going in hard without escape routes: make the threat of injury loom larger.
Not surprising from a guy who treats powerplay as the dirtiest word in hockey. But I don't think making the post more rigid would actually reduce goalie injuries. Not in raw numbers. It seems very unlikely. In fact, then all true accidental contact will lead to dangerous situations and we may be without many more top men.
I think there's a precedent for making a call out of this. It's called high-sticking.
High sticking has been made a special penalty for accidental instances of high sticks whereby reckless control of one's stick ends up on an opponent's face. Everybody is now very clear that reckless high sticks will be penalized (if they touch anyone) and that the penalty can be quite severe if the ere is injury. It doesn't matter if the player is trying to hook, slash or just turning around with a stick too high, it's a penalty if the ref sees it.
Reckless use of body can and should be looked at in the same vein. If a player gets to the point that control of his body is no longer his own, whether that is by virtue of space running out or defending that he has to account for, then that play could be penalized in some way. I think if the velocity is enough to dislodge the net or send another player careening into a post, then it is very worthy of a two minutes or more. Much like high-sticking, the degree of damage could matter. Clearly, there is some luck involved. But like a brush of a stick shaft won't cut anyone, a low speed tumble is unlikely to injure. A player careening full tilt with no route of escape could easily serve four minutes as if blood were spilling from a chin.
I prefer the deterrent of a penalty to physical barrier, certainly as a first step. If this step doesn't work, then I could see looking for more extreme measures like immovable posts or flaming goal creases.
Not lost in this incident for me is the role of the defender. PLayers that are beaten should not have the option to haul others down with impunity. Emelin in one case should have been penalized, Methot on another
That does not let Kreider off the hook for me either. He's still reckless, and discerningly so.
Overall, I'd wager that a more consistent standard of regulation and application of calls around the league, throughout all a year, would also help. If Emelin didn't think he'd have a 90% chance of getting away with the trip because it is May, he might never have tried it. If Kreider were in a league that had a rule against reckless net play and such a rule were enforced, he'd adjust.
It's a shame it takes such incidents to bring these conversations forward. Hockey's a complicated game, there's always something...