Stay Out of Your Own Way
|Posted on December 30, 2015 at 4:05 PM|
This is the first entry on what will be a regular contribution to some technical breakdowns. There has been a lot of talk and progression in the last couple of years on new save selections specifically developed to increase the consistency of making short-side, and sharp angle saves. Among the "soft" goals that we know we should have, the sharp angle goal is somewhere near the top of that category. Even the most casual hockey fan realizes that the further off-center the puck moves, the less net there is to shoot at, so with so little net to cover, how come goalies can't make that save 100% of the time? There's a few reasons these types of goals have been scored in the past on some of the biggest stages, and why they continue to be scored from time to time today. This article will provide a brief history of the evolution of goaltending with respect to the sharp angle shot, and focus on some of the technical aspects of new save selections designed to decrease the challenges that goaltenders face when facing a short-side, sharp-angle shot.
This story really starts in 2010. It was an exciting year for hockey, with Team Canada winning gold at the Vancouver Olympics and the Chicago Blackhawks winning the Stanley Cup in a thrilling OT victory over the Philadelphia Flyers. Both winning goals were scored in Overtime by 2 of the leagues top players in Sidney Crosby and Patrick Kane, but what these goals also had in common was they were shot from poor angles just above the goal line. Here's a refresher:
In both cases, the shots aren't all that hard, deceptive, or perfectly placed, yet they are still able to give NHL goaltenders a difficult time (not perfectly placed as in a hard, quick snap shot off the post low blocker an in, for example). The problem was, in 2010 we didn't have a very good save selection for playing these types of shots. There were a few options though, for example a straight butterfly a step outside the short-side post, which would allow the goalie some overlap to seal off the short side. A big problem here is the goalie greatly increses the size of their back-door, and any play to the slot or far side would leave the goalie completely exposed and leave a wide open net for the shooter.
Another option would be to hang back on the short-side post, and execute a sort of awkward pseudo-butterfly with the pads facing up-ice and chest facing the shot, or vice versa. This is not without its issues either, as Ryan Miller demonstrates in the first video (and will be examined in more detail later in the article). This save would leave the short side exposed as there is no real means to lean in and seal off the post. The puckstopping surface area is also decreased as some part of the body, either pads or chest is facing up-ice away from the shot.
This brings us in to the one-knee down saves, first focusing on a save called the "Regular VH". Here's a picture:
The VH refers to the orientation of the legs relative to the ice. In this photo, Tuukka Rask has his post leg Vertical, and back leg Horizontal, abbreviated as VH in the name. Today, this is known as more of an old-school save selection, not to say there isn't a time or place in todays game to use it since there absolutley is.
(screenshot from www.youtube.com/watch?v=Er2-XfJrVLU)
This is the other VH variation, commonly known as the "Reverse VH". In this save, the orientation of the legs is reversed, so the post leg is Horizontal along the ice, and the back leg is Vertical in relation. This is a relatively new save selection that has been incorporated in to the save selection arsenal of goalies all over the world.
Advantages and Disadvantages
Let's start with the traditional, Regular VH. To move in to the save from standing, all that is required is essentially dropping the back leg along the ice, so the Regular VH is a faster save to execute and take away a good part of the bottom of the net very quickly. Also, because the puck is at the goalies short side, shooters may elect to pass out to the slot for a higher percentage shot. Because the leg that will push is already vertical, under the goalie, and blade is engaged, the pushing leg is "loaded" and ready to push at any time to get to the new angle.
Jonathan Quick demonstrates the lateral push from Regular VH for a quick walk-out play from beside the net:
(Photos taken from www.youtube.com/watch?v=NMuUXXnH8NM)
Leon Draisaitl collects the puck in the corner and has some room to make a play. Quick realizes it will probably be a jam play once Draisaitl gets closer, so holds his ground on his feet and begins his backward tracking back to his post.
Draisaitl is moving the puck from backhand to forehand while carrying some speed east/west, hoping to open up Quick. Because Draisaitl is on the backhand so close to the net and behind the goal line, there is virtually no risk of a shot to the short side, so a Reverse VH isn't necessary to seal up that post. Instead, Quick knows he is going to have to make a push to his blocker side, so he keeps his post leg engaged and ready to push. He is just entering Regular VH in the above photo, dropping his back leg to seal off the ice which is where shooters are looking to put the puck in this scenario.
Draisaitl now has the puck in a shooting position. Because he is in so tight, his shooting options over the shoulder are eliminated, and the only way he can score is by putting the puck through Quick by opening him up. Quick has been here before and knows exactly what to do. Because Draisaitl is in so tight and his blade is closed, he's looking for a hole somewhere along the ice so Quick elects to go paddle-down, with virtually no risk of being beat over his blocker shoulder he is able to maintain a tight seal along the ice with his paddle as he pushes from side to side.
Draisaitl gets a shot off toward the far post. Quick did such a good to seal the ice at his 5-hole Draisaitl was forced to hang on to the puck and try to reach it around Quick. But Quick does something else very well in this sequence. Instead of dropping and pushing out toward the shooter, he pushes straight across the goal line to his far post. He takes away any angle Draisaitl thinks he may have, and makes an important save early on in the game.
To contrast, the very next period at the same end of the ice, a similar play unfolds on Cam Talbot.
From the same corner, Michael Mersch is moving out from below the goal line, from backhand to forehand. With 2 Oilers quickly converging, his only hope is a quick jam play on net similar to Draisaitl on Quick, but with less room to pull the goalie across. In this photo, Talbot is in the midst of executing a Reverse VH, to seal off the short side post despite no immediate threat of a shot there above the goal line.
Mersch avoids the poke check attempt. It's clear that Talbot is in trouble in the above photo, with his stick essentially out of the play and still moving laterally with nothing to close the 5-hole. With Mersch being in so tight and Talbot being a fairly big body, the Regular VH with paddle down similar to Quick in the above example would have been the ideal save selection in this case. Mersch also has the blade of his stick closed, indicating a low release is coming.
Talbot does well try to salvage a save here by bringing his stick back in front of his pads, but it's too late. The puck has already crossed the line, and the 2nd of 3 short-side goals in 90 seconds has been scored (although a 5-hole goal, the play originated on the short-side).
This just goes to show that although Regular VH is known as an old-school save selection, there is still very much a time and place for its use in todays game. Quick demonstrated one of the advantages with the post leg being loaded and ready to push, but he was also aware of the play and his tactical use of the save was spot on.
A disadvantage of the Regular VH can sometimes be the quality of the short-side seal. I don't mean to pick on Cam Talbot again, but he has let in a number of strange short-side goals so far this season with the Oilers that are worth exploring. Another goal I'd like to examine demonstrating the post-seal quality of the Regular VH was a game winner with 11 seconds left, earlier this year against Calgary.
(screenshots from www.youtube.com/watch?v=8Ri3DEgE-TA)
With less than 15 seconds to go in a 4-4 game, Matt Stajan beat both Oilers defence back to negate an icing call in the Oilers zone. The Flames are pressing hard looking for a shot, and Frolik has the puck in the corner just below the goal line in the above photo. Watching the video you can see Frolik gather the puck, look up at the net, bury his head and fire the puck. Talbot sees this as well and expects a shot, so he keeps himself tight against the post to seal it as best he can. The only area of vulnerability here is the gap at his knee, which is not much bigger than the puck but still an inviting place to shoot.
The shot has been taken, and Talbot begins to execute a Regular VH save. He does not ever actually close up the gap at his knee on the post, and this is one of the final frames it is still visible from this camera angle.
Talbot knows the puck hit him in a dangerous area of vulnerability with regards to a bank shot from below the goal line, and knows the puck is under him somewhere. In a last ditch effort to try to squeeze it between his legs, his brings his back leg right underneith him and against the post, but again it's too late.
Granted this was a lucky shot that took a bad bounce that worked to Calgary's favor. Being on Talbot's blocker side was especially difficult, as he had a threat pinching in from the point so couldn't take his stick out of the play to use the blocker to overlap the knee area. With the blocker hand playing the dual role of blocking pucks as well as manipulating the stick to block passes as well as cover the 5-hole, I'm going to say that Talbot was right the keep his stick in the passing lane as a priority. A few things could have been done different on this play- one would have been to stand up and use his back leg to lean in to the post even harder, while straightening his post-leg to minimize the hole. Another option would be to flatten out along the goal line, which faces the goaltender up-ice and reduces the amount of available surface area for the shooter to bank the puck off from below the goal line. This is also a rare case where the Reverse VH may have been a better option to get a proper post seal and eliminate the bank shot, despite the shot coming from the corner below the goal line. This is ultimately just an example of one of the disadvantages of Regular VH, highlighting the lower quality post seal on what was a flukey goal.
One more disadvantage of the Regular VH is simply the rebounds. Looking back at the Rask photo near the top of the page, it is easy to see that any shot off his far pad, blocker, or stick will result in a rebound being directed out to the slot, potentially creating another quality scoring chance. Also, if a rebound falls just in front of his body along the ice, we want to cover it up as soon as we can. Because of the positioning of the chest and head behind the Vertical pad, it can be difficult to find pucks down at the feet and becomes somewhat awkward to adjust the pads to allow us the reach to cover the pucks. In order to get the reach, ideally we would be moving our post leg from a Vertical position to horizontal along the ice, in to a butterfly. But to do so means opening up and coming out of the save in a time when the puck is loose right in front of us, opening up holes in the worst possible time. Remember, with so little net to shoot at from the sharp angles, by executing the Regular VH we are in more of a "block-mode" mindset, doing our best to seal off the holes between our arms, legs, and chest, as well as our bodies and the post. To fight to find loose pucks and cover them up we sometimes have to exit the block-mode, ideally minimizing the movement and regaining a seal along the ice as quick as possible.
Examining the 2010 goals
I mentioned earlier that I believed this story started in 2010, with the Golden Goal and Kane's OT winner drawing a lot of attention from the goaltending world. Both were quick shots thrown on net from sharp-angles above the goal line. Both were low along the ice, and both snuck in under the pads of Miller and Leighton. Miller's goal was in a 4 on 4 scenario, with the shot being taken from the bottom of the circle to his blocker side. When Crosby releases the puck, Miller's hips are actually facing up-ice, square to Scott Niedermayer pinching in from the point. His shoulders are sort of lined up to Crosby, and he ends up in the weird twisted butterfly not fully committed to either threat. Have a look:
(screenshots taken from www.youtube.com/watch?v=RBol-8Gfo5g)
Just as Crosby is releasing the puck you can see Millers hips and feet actually squared up to Niedermayer at the point. His head is on Crosby, and his shoulders are somewhere in between Crosby and Niedermayer.
This photo captures the awkardness of Miller's commitment to the shot. I really feel that if the Reverse VH was developed at this time, Miller would have used it to make an easy save. The face of his blocker side pad is about the only thing square to where the shot was released, plus Miller is back on the post covering the short-side. Where Crosby shot the puck from was just at the cusp of an area goalies should use the Reverse VH for, as indicated in the map courtesy of InGoalMag.com:
(This map will be explored in more detail later on)
As we can see, Crosby released the shot just at the bottom of the circle on Miller's blocker side. It was a quick release and no doubt a difficult play, however a Reverse VH would probably have prevented that goal (being a proud Canadian, I am more than happy that it wasn't developed until a couple years later!).
One of the reasons I love video work so much is there are some situations where you can see a clear snapshot of the evolution of the position. With Patrick Kane's OT winner against the Flyers, Michael Leighton attempts a save that somewhat resembles a Reverse VH, which would have been the perfect save for that situation. Have a look:
(screenshots taken from www.youtube.com/watch?v=Dvol_n-gkCQ)
In the above photo, the shot has been released from right at the bottom of the circle on Leighton's blocker side. Leighton is hugging the post and likely didn't expect a shot from such a sharp angle.
This is the screenshot that shows the evolution of the position since 2010. Leighton is down in a save that resembles a Reverse VH, except with his post leg pad flat on the ice rather than making a wall. The puck is already in at this time, but if any one frame was a catalyst to the development of the Reverse VH, I believe this is it. With only a slight modification to his post-leg pad, as well as getting his paddle up to stay tall and use the blocker to seal the post, this is a look at what was to come. It is unfortunate for Leighton that it took a goal of this magnitude to spark the develpment of a new save selection, but what are goalies if not adaptive?
Before getting in to the technical aspects of the Reverse VH, I want to make something very clear. Although an effective, consistent, and fun save selection to use, there is a time and a place. I see too many goalies coming out of summer camps excited about the new save they learned that allows them to be more like Jonathan Quick, and becomes the default save once the puck moves off center or is in the corner. I will refer to the map by InGoalMag.com once again that highlights the areas of the ice where Reverse VH can be used if the puck is in:
The problem with using Reverse VH when the puck is above the "blue zones" (between the goal line and bottom of the circle) is that it opens up the far side, and more important it simply isn't necessary. Being a save designed to provide a good lean in to the post to seal off the short-side, it makes no sense to use it when the puck is closer to the middle of the ice and the goalie would benefit from being on their feet to move to new angles. Likewise when the puck is in the corner below the goal line, it is physically impossible for it to enter the net without being banked in, so unless you have a situation like the Frolik example on Cam Talbot earlier in the article, goalies are best to stand up and make themselves aware of threats roaming in the slot.
Some key points to consider when using Reverse VH:
Being a save used to seal off the short side, make sure you seal off the short side! Starting at ice level with the post-foot, find a seal that works for you. Some Goalies prefer the toe of the skate blade on the post, some prefer the boot of the pad. Personally I will try to encourage something in between known as a toe-hook, which has the goalie seal the post with the toe of their skate, having the front of the pad hook around the post:
(screenshot from www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ixav0K1A7_0)
Although difficult to get in to consistently especially when arriving at the post in a butterfly slide, it feels like more of a sweet spot by combining the benefits of the boot and blade seals. The boot seal is probably the easiest to arrive in as it is the biggest target, and is easier on the goalies hips by not requiring as much of a lean to seal off the post. A downside is that it is more awkward to push out of, as it requires a push from the face of the pad which must be perpendicular to the desired trajectory line to get the strongest push. Also, the face of the pad must stay vertical and not lean inward, which will open up a hole at ice level big enough for the puck to sneak in.
The blade seal is a widely used option as well. With the angle of the ankle being easier to manipulate, it is easier to get good contact with the post for a good push out of Reverse VH, or to the other post. It is relatively easy to arrive in with some practice, although it is a bit harder on the hips as it puts the goalie several inches further from the post than the boot seal, requiring a greater lean to seal the post. Also, there is some hesitation to arrive at the post with the blade first, as we don't all have the luxury of NHL goalies to get our skates sharpened each period.
The toe-hook pictured above provides a firm seal at the post, as well as a lot of contact to push out of. This would be a preferred seal when starting off hugging the post, as the inside leg will drop straight down and should find the sweet spot easier than arriving from a butterfly slide. It also reduces the strain on the hips and knees by reducing the distance the goalie has to lean to seal off the post. It will preserve the skate blades as well by using the front of the skate cowling extended down to the front of the blade, toe bridge on the pad, and underside of the boot of the pad as the primary point of contact on the post. An obvious downside is that it is difficult to find this sweet spot from a slide to the post, which is why goalies should be comfortable with each of the pad seal methods.
On this particular model of Bauer skate, you can see a natural curve from the bottom of the blade up to the top of the cowling, just above the logo on the toe. Aim to get this part of your skate on the post for the toe-hook method.
Engage the back leg: The Reverse VH is not just a butterfly at the post. We still need to maintain some contact with the ice to stay in a controlled position, to allow us to rotate about the post as well as lean in to the post for a better seal:
(screenshot taken from www.youtube.com/watch?v=9W0jMJ2omv4)
Hutton's glove leg should be up enough to allow his skate blade to be engaged with the ice. The following sequence will show Jonathan Quick yet again with proper back leg engagement, which allows him to adjust his positioning along the goal line and follow the play from behind the net to above the goal line:
(screenshots taken from www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ixav0K1A7_0)
Quick elects to use Reverse VH to track the puck behind his net, holding his ground on the blocker side post. Bobby Ryan has the puck behind the net looking to make a play to Quick's blocker side. As a worst-case-scenario, should Quick fail to adjust his upper body in time for a shot from his blocker side, his skate is already against the post and he is filling a fair amount of net on that side. The next photo in the sequence shows the pass move from over Quick's glove shoulder, to his Blocker side:
This screenshot was taken in the midst of Quick adjusting his back foot after using it to push and rotate his hips and shoulders to the new angle above the goal line. Without the back leg engagement, he wouldn't be able to have the lean that he does in to the short-side post.
In the last photo of this sequence, not only has Quick re-established back leg engagement allowing a solid post lean, but he has found the toe-hook as well. Should there have been a shot from in tight above the goal line, Quick would be in excellent shape to re-adjust his upper body even further to square his shoulders to the shot, largely by keeping his back skate engaged with the ice.
The Reverse VH is a fairly technical save that requires attention to many small details. For more information, check out Mike Valley's article Mastering the Reverse VH, available for free at magazine.ingoalmag.com/publication/?i=140306&p=88
One last topic I want to cover with Taking Pride in your Short-Side is the use of the stick. Earlier in the article we saw how Jonathan Quick used the paddle down to perfection against the Oilers in the Regular VH save selection, and where Cam Talbot could have used it as well. This last topic will focus on using the stick as a deterrent, as well as actively blocking passes from quiet zones to shooting threats.
In a scenario where a goalie is in Reverse VH on the blocker side post, it is important to know when to be in paddle down and when to be taller. As mentioned earlier, the blocker side can be tricky, with the blocker hand serving a dual purpose of making blocker saves and controlling the stick to cover shots along the ice. A good rule of thumb is, when the puck is below the goal line inside the Reverse VH zone (as indicated on the map posted twice this article), use the paddle down option.
(screenshots taken from www.youtube.com/watch?v=Er2-XfJrVLU)
Our priority here is to block any passes coming out to the slot from behind the goal line. We don't have to worry about staying tall as the puck is behind the goal line rather than in front, so it doesn't do any harm to drop that blocker shoulder to get the paddle down. Even if a pass were to make it above the line for a quick shot, Holtby is still filling a lot of the net and is in a decent position to make the save despite focusing on the pass below the line. Also, his back leg is still engaged, no matter if playing a pass or a shot from Reverse VH, an example of good habits manifesting in game situations.
Now look what happens when a shot is taken above the goal line from the blocker side:
Holtby has moved to a taller position on the post, using his blocker now to cover the gap sometimes created by the hip bend at the post. The camera sees a little bit of net beside his ear, but down from the angle the puck was shot at there was likely very little. Again this demonstrates the importance of the back leg engagement, as it would allow Holtby to push up and in to the post once he sees the shooter is commited to the shot.
So simple rule of thumb: In Reverse VH on the blocker side with the puck below the goal line, think paddle down. With the puck above the goal line and shot is imminent, think paddle up and make yourself tall.
On the glove side, a simple wrist rotation is all that's needed. Above the goal line, the stick is much less of a priority.
We can see that the stick is overlapping an area already tightly sealed. The priority is more with the blocker, which is used here to cradle any shots to the chest, or actively deflect rebounds away from the slot. Another major advantage of the Reverse VH in general is the rebound control. If a shot from the bottom of the circle is on net and hits Holtby in the short side pad, stick, blocker, or chest, the rebound is directed right back to the side of the net rather than out front like with the Regular VH.
This final sequence shows Team Sweden goaltender Linus Soderstrom use his stick as a deterrent at the 2016 World Juniors in a game Sweden would win 1-0 over the U.S.
(screenshots taken from www.youtube.com/watch?v=W7435iwSZi8)
With the U.S. on a 5 on 3 powerplay, Soderstrom had just made a save with the rebound picked up by the U.S. forward and taken behind the net. Soderstrom is likely aware of the 1-3-1 powerplay formation and knows there is a threat alone in the slot, and has arrived at his post in Reverse VH with his stick extended to the passing lane out front.
The U.S. player now has his head up and is looking to pass to the slot. Soderstrom likely uses this visual cue to adjust his stick position to stay in the passing lane. Soderstrom is likely also aware that the threat in the slot is a right-handed shooter, so the forward behind the net will be trying to make a pass out from Soderstrom's glove side.
Finally, after a good look the U.S. player dishes the pass to the player in the corner, and a high quality scoring chance was avoided in large part to good stick positioning by Soderstrom.
I hope this article was useful in some way to those who took the time to read it! Please feel free to comment below or contact me at [email protected] for further discussion.
I'd like to thank the NHL youtube channel, as well as Sensfan0206 for providing amazing footage of NHL goaltenders to study. Check out his youtube page for a ton of quality footage: www.youtube.com/channel/UC-GlL4ETmf6oWNME6xsyV0w
I'd also like to thank InGoalMag for providing goalie coaches with the means to collaborate, and for posting some outstanding articles by some of the best goalie minds in the business. ingoalmag.com
Finally I'd like to thank Sean Murray of PFGS in Vancouver BC. I learned a lot of what I know about the Reverse VH from him, and it was fun instructing for him, and watching him at work during my time in Vancouver. www.progoal.com
Thanks for reading!