All Eyes on Visors

Philadelphia — Chris Pronger’s sad descent from All-Star defenseman to bedridden days in dark rooms to ease throbbing headaches and occasional bouts of depression can be traced to one wayward stick to his right eye.

Pronger lost his peripheral vision. He can’t run, or even skate hard. The former Philadelphia Flyers’ star who keyed the team’s run to the 2010 Stanley Cup finals has been advised not to return to hockey.

But given the chance to become a better-safe-than-sorry spokesman for the use of protective shields, the kind that might have saved his career and his vision, Pronger balked. If his two young sons wanted to one day play in the NHL without visors, Pronger wouldn’t stand in their way.

“If he’s over 18, he’s more than welcome to,” Pronger said. “It’s his life. You can advise and consent, but you can’t make somebody do anything.”

Not even an injury that put his career on hold turned Pronger into a staunch advocate for visors. He was even hurt in vain — the NHL and NHLPA have still not mandated visors, even as preventable injuries are still prevalent in the rough-and-tumble league.

Pronger talked about his dark days only two days after New York Rangers defenseman Marc Staal was struck in the eye by a deflected puck. Staal, who wasn’t wearing a visor, writhed on the ice and screamed in agony. He held his bloody face while he was down and when he skated off the ice, assisted by a Rangers trainer, toward the dressing room.

“It’s scary,” Rangers coach John Tortorella said.

As scary as it was to watch, Staal’s injury and Pronger’s grim road to recovery should act as reminders of the dangers of playing a high-impact sport without facial protection. Staal might be lucky. The 26-year-old is sidelined indefinitely but doctors are optimistic he’ll make a full recovery.

While the league has long supported the use of visors, the NHLPA has let each player make the final call. The players association has been proactive in educating players that wearing a visor decreases the risk of suffering an eye injury.

“While the players support visor use being a matter of individual choice, we continue to regularly educate the players on the benefits of wearing a visor so that each player can make an informed decision,” Mathieu Schneider, special assistant to the executive director, said. “We will further discuss visors and other important equipment-related matters at our player meetings this summer.”

Still, mandatory use of visors was not legislated into the labor agreement that ended the lockout.

Education — and perhaps, the impact of career-shortening injuries to players like Pronger, Bryan Berard and Ian Laperriere — has sunk in to stubborn players in a macho league. The NHLPA reported approximately 73 percent of players are wearing visors this season, up from about 69 percent in 2011-12. For context, The Hockey News reported that in 2001-02, visors were worn by 28 percent of players.

Last Night’s Games

Canadiens 4
Senators 3 (so)

Montreal — Alex Galchenyuk and Lars Eller scored shootout goals, and the Canadiens won their fourth straight.

Eller also scored in the first period and Brendan Gallagher and P.K. Subban added power-play goals in the second for Montreal (18-5-4), which played loosely in its first home game after a five-game trip. Carey Price made 29 saves.

Mika Zibanejad and Daniel Alfredsson had power-play goals for Ottawa (13-8-6), and Patrick Wiercioch also scored for the Senators, who are 1-2-4 in their last seven.

Devils 5, Flyers 2

Newark, n.j. — Ilya Kovalchuk capped New Jersey’s three-goal first period with his NHL-leading fourth short-handed goal, and the Devils beat mistake-prone Philadelphia.

Patrik Elias and Adam Henrique, who scored twice, also tallied in the opening period as the Devils beat the Flyers for the third time in three games this season.

Andrei Loktionov had the prettiest goal for New Jersey, with a toe-drag move that left Flyers goalie Ilya Bryzgalov at his mercy.

Johan Hedberg had 23 saves for New Jersey, which has won two straight and three of four after a six-game losing streak.

Jakub Voracek and Scott Hartnell scored for the Flyers, who have lost four of five.