Hellebuyck Trying Not ‘To Do Too Much’ As Jets No.1
When InGoal talked to Winnipeg Jets goaltender Connor Hellebuyck last season about his uniquely low glove hand positioning, he was a recently-recalled prospect with the Central Division club.
Fast forward one year and Hellebuyck caught up with InGoal again, shortly after recording Winnipeg’s second-ever road regulation victory against the Arizona Coyotes. He was cool and collected during the win, keeping the team in the game during a poor first period and then failing to let the game slip away in the ensuing 40 minutes. He certainly didn’t look like a newly-minted No. 1, trying too hard to do too much.
Despite looking like a seasoned pro, though, Hellebuyck said he can certainly see why some goaltenders find themselves doing that when they move into a new role.
“Yeah, I can definitely see guys trying to do too much, I can see that mentality,” Hellebuyck said. “You can definitely overthink some things, and you can let that creep into your game.
“Luckily, I’m with the right organization, I think that … the coach and I, we had a lot of good talks, and don’t let anything linger in my mind. When I’ve got a problem I just go right to him and we fix it right away, and then from there on I don’t think about it anymore.”
It’s good to hear Hellebuyck recognizes the need to not try to do too much just because he’s now the No.1 in Winnipeg because it’s something other goaltenders have found easier to say than do.
Frederik Andersen also talked about trying “a bit too hard” during his early struggles trying to live up the expectations that come with a new contract and new job as the No. 1 goalie for the Toronto Maple Leafs this season. Edmonton Oilers goalie Cam Talbot talked about it last season, when he struggled early as the new No. 1 after success in a relief role with the New York Rangers in 2014-15.
“Sometimes it’s almost like you try harder and you are almost just putting yourself in worse positions,” Talbot told InGoal last season. “Every time things start going not your way you want to try to do more to force it but that’s not the way it works in goaltending. You can’t just try harder.”
New St. Louis Blues No.1 Jake Allen said the secret is not trying to do too much.
“I’m sure you hear this quote all the time, but you really do have to let the game come to you,” Allen told InGoal. “It’s easy to say and harder to do. Sometimes you want that puck so bad.”
Fortunately for Hellebuyck, there were few signs of that when he and the Jets walked away from their game against Arizona with a 3-2 victory, moving the 23-year-old netminder’s record on the year to 5-4-0.
Of course, he’s still got plenty that he’ll need to work on. Since then, he’s gone 2-2-0, recording a shutout in one of his games but then allowing four goals on just 21 shots faced. When he left Arizona, he still boasted just a .906 save percentage on the season; even now, it’s only up to a .911 to remain below the league average. A slow start to the year has him playing catch-up with his save percentage through November, and he’ll likely have to continue being better in each game to finally put up those number-one stats lines.
What he did right
Despite allowing two goals against the Coyotes that night – one at the start of the game and one right before the final buzzer – Hellebuyck played the entire game with consistency behind an inconsistent roster.
The Jets started off slow in the offensive zone, allowing Hellebuyck to face eight shots on goal while only taking three of their own. They allowed a game high 11 shots in the second period, then limited Arizona to just six in the final frame; despite that fluctation, though, his game was a steadying presence.
During chats with him last season, InGoal learned that Hellebuyck has a strong understanding of puck projection and glove positioning. While it appears that he holds his glove hand lower than he should, his tall stature, combined with an upright stance, courtesy of a college coach, put him in good position to follow shot after shot directly into his glove instead of the net. He did a good job with rebound control as well, limiting Arizona’s opportunities to capitalize on rebounds throughout the game.
It’s hard to picture that Hellebuyck will become anything but a bona fide No. 1 netminder.
After lights-out numbers in the NAHL and NCAA, the Commerce, Michigan native put up an impressive rookie pro campaign in the AHL back in 2014-15. He followed that up with a team-carrying performance with Team USA at the 2015 Men’s IIHF World Championships, helping the team earn bronze, and then did well with both the St. John’s Ice Caps in the American Hockey League and the Jets last season, filling in at for an injured Ondrej Pavelec through most of the late fall and early winter portion of the season.
Still, he’s got some improvements that he’ll need to make if he wants to become an elite starter.
Some shooters believe if he’s beat once in a certain location, Hellebuyck is liable to be beaten in the same place again during the same game. He and his coach, Wade Flaherty, certainly know how to break down his problems after a game and fix them moving forward, but he’ll have to work on adjusting his game on the fly if he wants to edge out some of his poor showings over the course of a year.
For now, though, he’s adjusting to life as a No. 1, and he’s doing it just fine.