Contemplating Movement & Technique in Smaller Gear
Over the last week, I’ve been fascinated by the photos from InGoal Magazine’s trip to the Reebok-CCM Gear Summit.
I’ve avidly read the articles and reactions from the goalies regarding the trimmed thigh rises, and I’ve spoken privately with a few minor league goalies and goaltending coaches about the changes.
Yes, a 10-per cent reduction in the height of thigh rises – or roughly two inches for the average NHL goalie – is not insignificant. But I still don’t doubt for a single moment that NHL goaltenders will have the mental capacity and physical capability to get comfortable in their smaller leg pads with relative ease.
Nothing in goaltending happens in a vacuum. So while goalies will suffer from a little less net coverage (some more than others, as detailed by this recent InGoal article), they may also benefit by being just a little quicker, a little more fluid with their movements, and maybe a little more balanced when selecting from their blocking or reacting toolboxes.
These guys are the most elite goalies. Even when their backs are pushed against the wall with ultra-tight deadlines, I still believe that NHL goalies as a whole will have no problem getting through the potentially cumbersome month of September and be cozy and comfortable by October.
With that being said, goalies do have plenty of adjustments to consider as they prepare for training camps.
We already know a few goalies have strapped on their approved pads for the season, and we’ve had a chance to discern just how much of a difference it may make for the likes of Marc-Andre Fleury, Corey Crawford, Jean Sebastien Giguere, Jonathan Bernier, Craig Anderson, and Henrik Lundqvist.
What has me most interested is how the position evolves once the rule changes trickle down to the AHL, ECHL, and eventually into junior and college hockey.
As a scout and student of the position, I often see things from a wide lens. I like to put notches in an imaginary timeline by looking at all of the technical elements that get added to the library known as the “progressive butterfly.” From there, I formulate an idea of how the position shifts year after year.
Take, for example, the Vertical-Horizontal Stance, or VHS.
Seven years ago, the VHS didn’t even exist. Within four years, it had become a plague that caused me headaches on a nightly basis. Thankfully, last year this technique was quickly overridden by the more effective reverse-VH, or as it is sometimes referred to as the post lean. [I’d be remiss if I didn’t note that there are specific times when the VHS is used appropriately. Even then, I personally don’t use it when I’m playing. But it’s all about situation and preference.]
Knowing a 10-percent reduction in the height of thigh rises has already created its own notch or obstacle on the evolutionary timeline, what will be the next step in the position’s progression?
This is not easy to answer because it has to play out over time and on its own accord. Tons of goals have to be scored and enough games have to be played in order for goalie coaches and analysts to recognize emerging patterns and certain correlations.
Will we actually see an increase in the number of goals that slip through the five hole?
Will goals-against averages rise steadily for more than a few months?
What will happen to league-wide save percentages?
We can all project and ponder these things with an analytical eye, but again only time will truly tell, and there are no wrong answers at this point. It’s really fun to discuss, and I’d love to see some advanced statistical analysis regarding this focal point. I’m sure we’ll see some, and I’ll soak it all in.
Even though we’re essentially guessing at this point, when I look at the biomechanics and situations in which an extended thigh rise bails me out or helps me build a solid seal with the ice, it becomes a little clearer as to what might happen next.
In my opinion, the wide butterfly save, or “pad reach” and “leg extension” saves, may be slightly curtailed.
Wide butterfly and “toe” saves not only lock up the hips, but because the knees extend away from each other the five-hole is further exposed. Trim the thigh rises by 10 percent, and bigger holes are inescapable. And since thigh rises are the last piece of gear to seal the ice in a butterfly drop, shifts in the philosophy around the use of a full butterfly may be just over the horizon.
But what kind of shifts?
First of all, it may place a stronger emphasis and importance on stick placement. Even if the stick blade is in perfect position, centered directly in the middle of your pants, an extended leg may pull the knee and pad far enough away from the core to where a puck can still slip through.
So not only does it need to be well-disciplined, it may need to be a bit more active than usual. It can’t just lay there. It may need to be shifted slightly left or right depending on the exact location of the shot, because simply having the stick in the middle of your knees isn’t going to be enough to get a piece of it.
Secondly, this may place a stronger emphasis on the half-butterfly save. Keeping one knee directly under the thigh while extending the other leg and knee allows for better efficiency because you can not only push the extending knee further away from the body, but it is easier to keep the pads sealed to the ice.
Thirdly, this may place a stronger emphasis on an active glove. Shots low to the ice that hit a skate or a shin or a waving stick cause goalies to make extensions, meaning bigger holes will be open along the ice. Goalies can’t be so resigned to just let pucks hit the pad and direct to the boards on every occasion, so goalies may emphasize catching low shots in front of the body (think Pekka Rinne).
Next on the list may be the most effective and important of them all: a stronger emphasis placed on the gathered, narrow butterfly save. Not only does a narrow butterfly reduce the strain on a goalie’s hips, but it keeps the knees closer together, which also allows for you to sit taller in the butterfly. That means your shoulders sit higher, which improves net coverage and aerial angles beyond what the hands can cover.
A narrow, gathered butterfly is also a good way to keep rebounds in front of your body.
In terms of the narrow butterfly, more emphasis would be placed on being square to pucks, while having the perfect angle and depth. Getting that belly button directly in line with the puck is every goalie’s main mission, so there’s nothing wrong with that.
Furthermore, making the first save as perfectly as possible with a narrow butterfly may be easier for some goalies because there’s less reaching and extending, but more sealing and shifting into the shot’s path. That being said, goalies that can keep rebounds in front of them and move their knees less will have an easier time managing those pesky goal-mouth scrambles and tricky rebound back-door chances.
Somewhere, Francois Allaire, Giguere, James Reimer, and Jonas Hiller are all smiling.
There are more than just three points of emphasis when it comes to the rising danger of the wide butterfly or extension leg saves, but you get the idea. It’s not rocket science, and I’m sure NHL goalie coaches are already pondering these same things.
Every little detail, every little point of technique, is under the microscope now as all of the elements that were already so crucial to positional success become that much more important. Goaltending is already a game of inches, and now that NHL goalies are losing a few of those inches, they better gain that much more skill, both mentally and technically speaking.
I continue to stress that nothing in goaltending happens in a vacuum, and with that in mind, the next question I ask is if this possible shift in philosophy will lead to more “drop and block” save selections?
A part of me believes so. If a goalie takes a bit more risk by extending their knees away from their body to make a toe save, they’re not being as efficient as the goalie who builds a wall with a gathered or narrow butterfly and does a drop-and-shift.
Ultimately, “boring” goaltending, which is often a compliment, may be more beneficial than ever before.
On the flip side, we may find that “exciting” goaltending will also be on the rise. Some goalies may simply be forced to utilize their acrobatics, flexibility, and their ability to surprise shooters on a slightly more continual basis. Or maybe some find this brings them more balance between save selections, and they find they’re a little more loose, relaxed, and “free-flowing” in smaller gear.
You could also argue that while playing deeper may seem counter-intuitive if a goalie looks a bit smaller, they may be more likely to square up quicker, or have a bit more time to snap the knees down to the ice, make slightly better decisions and reads, and have an easier time picking up pucks that change paths.
Think of the long-term implications here. Will this further amalgamate goaltenders and make everyone’s technique more similar?
At the end of the day, when pads get trimmed, you slightly adjust every aspect of a goalie’s movements.
Some will need to make the mental adjustment of knowing how much space they’re filling, and may also have to deal with overcoming a false sense of security in terms of how their mind has been trained to visualize their body placement. In that regard, video feedback will be a crucial element for every NHL goalie coach in the next two months.
Everything an NHL goalie does is so calculated and precise that they could realistically spend an entire week simply going through their deep toolbox of save selections in different situations just to see how they fill space with their smaller pads.
They’ll review the video, engrain it into their minds, make the adjustments, and repeat the process.
They will have to be more aware and careful of how their pads are sealing the ice. They have to be more careful how far they’re extending their knees and legs to make saves on low shots. They have to consider the benefits of being more condensed in a narrow butterfly and how they handle rebounds. They need to reinforce the importance of driving the knees down to the ice and not being lazy with “soft” drops.
With so many questions to consider regarding the change in the size of leg pads, you can see just how deep the rabbit hole goes from a movement and technical standpoint.
~ Justin Goldman is the Director of Goalie Scouting for McKeen’s Hockey, the founder of The Goalie Guild, and now a contributor to InGoal Magazine. He covered the Colorado Avalanche for six years for Mile High Sports Radio and was the goalie coach of the DU Junior Pioneers for three years before relocating to Minneapolis last summer. Be sure to give him a follow on Twitter @TheGoalieGuild and reach out to him anytime.