Dustin Tokarski has already authored an impressive story for the Montreal Canadiens in these Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Going from the Black Ace to the starting goaltender in the Eastern Conference Finals is a huge ask, especially almost a month after your last game action at the end of the American Hockey League regular season. But after admitting to some extra nerves and appearing a little behind the play in his first start in Game 2 at home, Tokarski was the biggest reason Montreal won Game 3 in Madison Square Garden and kept the Canadiens in Game 4 with several highlight reel stops before losing in overtime.
So this certainly isn’t meant as a criticism of the impressive 24-year-old, who is once again proving that being 5-foot-11 doesn’t prevent you from stopping pucks on the biggest stage, something he’s done before while winning a World Junior and AHL championship. But as a learning tool it’s worth asking whether Tokarski’s use of the VH, or one-pad down technique, is costing him.
It certainly appeared to on the Game 4 overtime goal by Martin St. Louis:
Again, not to blame Tokarski, who had already robbed St. Louis on a breakaway in Game 4 and several times since taking over from an injured Carey Price as the Canadiens starter. It’s not the goalie’s fault his teammates keep leaving a sniper like St. Louis wide open, and the former Art Ross Trophy winner as the League’s leading scorer put that shot in off the bottom of the cross bar. And from that range Tokarksi may simply be in “block” mode, with St. Louis in a spot where he doesn’t think he’ll have time to react, and chooses to use a VH-style blocking save.
Still, the VH is a curious save selection on a shot that starts from just below the face-off dot. Used primarily as a save technique on plays from below the bottom of the face-off circle, the VH, or one-pad down, provides a good post seal on sharp-angle attacks. But in this case, rather than seal the post and square up the torso to a puck coming off the goal line, the VH causes Tokarski’s left shoulder to actually pull away from where the puck is going, squaring up to a dead-angle attack but losing squareness on St. Louis’ shot from the dot.
In other words, as these screen shots from the NBC footage show, it moves Tokarski out of the way:
Watch how Tokarski’s left shoulder opens up as he drops into VH:
By the time the puck gets to Tokarski, he is squared up to that sharp angle, and not the shot:
Again, it may not have mattered given the perfect placement from St. Louis, a noted sniper who had twice been turned away spectacularly by Tokarski from a similar spot in Game 3.
It’s also worth pointing out that it’s overtime of Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Final at Madison Square Garden, and Tokarski doesn’t have the luxury of freeze framing his choice of save selections. But it remains a good example for other goalies about the limits of VH, why most goaltending coaches try to map out a zone where it is most effective, and the importance of sticking to those guidelines.
That’s especially true when you see how close Tokarski was to getting a piece of the puck in the screen shot on the right, and consider how much more of the vertical angle might have been cut off with Tokarski’s left shoulder pressed forward rather than pulled back.
Tokarksi certainly took advantage of a forward press with the glove to cut off the vertical angle on St. Louis in the final minute of Game 3:
Combine that with his windmill glove stop on St. Louis on a breakaway earlier in Game 4 …
… and the VH save selection becomes a little more curious because it is such a pure “blocking” save, one that locks up goalies, effectively eliminating the glove hand he’d already flashed so effectively on St. Louis.
It’s also not the only time it could be argued the VH has cost Tokarski in this series.
Shortly after the Game 3 robbery of St. Louis, the Rangers tied the game on a sharp angle play that bounced in off the skate of Canadiens defenseman Alexei Emelin.
While that goal also may have gone in either way, more than a few well-educated observers on Twitter wondered if the Reverse-VH may have given Tokarski a better chance, not only of getting to a puck that slid into the middle of the open net, but perhaps of cutting it off before it got there.
That’s because the Reverse puts more of the goalie in between the posts, rather than up against and outside it like the VH, and because the short side pad is down on the ice to cut off more of the crease to pucks getting through, and on glove-side attacks the blocker hand is also freer to use the stick to cut off those passes.
Again, this isn’t to blame Tokarski, who has gone toe-to-toe with Henrik Lundqvist, but more to spark a discussion on save selection. You can check out the situational usage guide to the Reverse that InGoal’s Greg Balloch put together recently, or leave comments and suggestions below.