Leg pads aren’t the only piece of equipment you will see on NHL ice that got trimmed over the summer.
The League agreed to create more space below the goal line by constructing new nets that are four inches shallower than last year’s model. Instead of a net being 44 inches deep, it is now 40 inches. They also took four inches off each side by reducing the radius, which shrunk the total width at the bottom of the frame from 96 inches down to 88 inches. The NHL also adjusted the joints between the crossbar and the posts to be a more direct 90-degree angle, and the white vinyl pad around the bottom of the goal frame was replaced with a clear vinyl material, which allows both on and off-ice referees to locate pucks a little easier.
The NHL shared this illustration of the net changes:
Now four inches may not seem like much, but after a week’s worth of preseason games, including one held on an Olympic sheet of ice, I can safely say that, just like we’ll see with shorter thigh rises, shallower nets may result in goaltenders needing to make some slight technical adjustments.
The first thing I observed was overall space management behind the net.
Most noticeably, there is visibly more space for a goalie to maneuver in the trapezoid. Once a goalie successfully seals off a dump in, he has more “wiggle room” to make a full-body rotation in order to execute a backhand or forehand pass, depending on his stick hand and which side he’s facing.
In the past, goalies would sometimes appear constricted when pushing towards the boards and then retreating back to their crease, especially when defenseman would skate through the trapezoid to retrieve pucks and kick-start a transition. Some have tripped over the white vinyl pad, or had to step over the area where the frame bowed out just slightly. But with the shallower nets, goalies should feel less restricted and have more space to work with. Of course this can have an adverse effect as extra space can create a false sense of extra time, which may cause delays, late passes, or hesitations in the decision-making process.
It also seems goalies had an easier time retreating back to their crease from directly behind the goal net. Tracking with the skates in a backward “C” motion can be done in a more fluid and direct motion now that the net is not as deep or as “bowed out” as before.
In order to gain more insight on the technical adjustments goalies may need to make in regards to the shallower nets, I spent some time talking with a few NHL goalie coaches, including Mitch Korn of the Nashville Predators. The new nets had just arrived in Nashville, and Korn had just one day to work with his goalies and the smaller nets before they were on the road for preseason games, but still had a good idea how the change might affect NHL goalies.
As Korn explained, the biggest adjustment will be managing the increased passing lanes and angles a player has when he’s set up directly behind the goal. That means doing a better job of integrating the pad and body into posts to seal short-side shots, or executing a “bump” (pushing on the knees from one post to the other) in a slightly quicker, more efficient and controlled manner.
“I think everyone recognizes that wraparounds may come an eyelash quicker, but I think the single biggest change that will occur because of the shallower nets is the passing angles,” Korn said. “The passing angles will change just an eyelash, and the fact that the curvature of the net does not come out quite as far allows more space for pucks to be passed from behind the net to in front of the net.”
This is pure geometry in one respect, but since it opens up slightly more space for the shooters to work with, it opens the door for more chaos and confusion with scramble plays around the crease area. Goalies will have to be sharper with their ability to track and locate pucks in tight and in traffic, and that much sharper when transitioning in and out of various post coverage stances and techniques. Going from a low crouch to a knee-down position, and finding ways to keep the knees gathered and close together when having to reach or lean into shot lanes will be more important than ever before.
Combine quicker wraparound opportunities with shorter pads and it’s easy to envision the following scenario becoming more common: A player executes a wraparound and is able to lean on the net just a little bit more than usual, forcing a goalie to extend their skate just a little more than usual in order to beat the play and seal the inside post in time. Instead of moving at a normal pace, maybe they are forced to move at a more urgent pace, and because this causes a bit more of an extension, the knees get further apart, and with smaller thigh rises, opens up a larger five-hole.
So what happens when the puck doesn’t wrap cleanly, and instead flutters off the end of the shooter’s stick blade and floats into the low slot or the top of the crease and begins to riccocet off skates, sticks, or even a player’s leg? Or what if a player recognizes the chaos and fires the puck into a crowd on purpose?
As Korn explains, if that happens, goalies better have their knees close together, or have that paddle flush to the ice early, otherwise the amount of “tricklers” and “tweeners” may be on the rise.
“That situation can happen in any circumstance, and everyone is going to be affected differently, so I think goalies recognize the five-hole becomes an issue,” Korn said. “That means stick discipline is more important; the blade has to be on the ice, not just the heel. That means the stick has to be tracking the puck better and staying closer to the five-hole, as opposed to the shoulder rolling and the stick getting caught going from blade up to paddle down. All of those things could potentially occur, so I think what you’ll see is more narrow butterflies in this situation, so the knee lifts seal that space. But there’s a lot of experimenting to do.”
The potential rise of the narrow butterfly and the increasing importance of stick placement and “mirroring” was discussed in my previous InGoal article contemplating movement in small equipment.
Knowing stick placement and staying gathered in the butterfly would be more crucial than ever, Korn expanded on this by discussing the importance of bringing the trail leg back underneath the body when executing a knee shuffle or a post-to-post slide. He refers to this in his camps as “push and pull.”
“You know that I stress the phrase ‘push and pull,’ so I think we’re going to see more guys be conscious of the pull,” Korn said. “In the past, they may not have had to pull quite as much, but training will be more conscious with the pull. The legs have to work together a bit more, and there has to be more pull.”
I noticed the rising importance of the pull in the two games over the first weekend of the preseason.
For example, while Braden Holtby has the fast-twitch muscles and the sheer leg strength to pull his knees together at the last second on a scramble in front of the net, he had to utilize those reflexes fairly often in his first exhibition performance against the Jets. Following a leg or a knee extension, his five hole was visibly wider and exposed more space, but his ability to read the play and seal space made his overall transitions look quicker, more powerful, and really fluid.
He’s one goalie that I don’t expect to struggle with the smaller thigh rises or the shallower nets. Although it is worth pointing out that he did allow a short-side goal on a wraparound, and he did almost have a turnover behind the goal. But keep in mind, this game was played on Olympic ice.
After Korn discussed the importance of the push-and-pull, we traversed into the various techniques of how a goalie integrates their body and pads into the post.
“I always believed watching the reverse-VH you’re creating a hole anyways by elevating the back leg,” Korn said. “The crazy deflections that hit a skate, in the reverse-VH, you’ve created that hole anyways. I was concerned that there wouldn’t be enough room for the boot break when you go with the pad inside as opposed to the skate on the post because Peks [Pekka Rinne] really likes the shin against the post and sliding in that way. He prefers to have the pad inside the post.”
Korn went on to explain two reasons why Rinne – if he can help it – prefers the pad inside the post. First of all, it eliminates the odd goal where the puck slips under the blade between the post and the skate boot. Especially with more goalies using taller steel, the more steel you use, the more likely that type of trickler goal occurs. Furthermore, if there’s any bit of heel or toe rotation, the blade will point slightly upward, which creates even more room for a puck to slip under.
Korn also explained how a skate that gets jammed against the post can cause a pad to “bounce” just slightly, which can cause a goalie to lose a seal with the ice.
In terms of my own personal preference, I feel like it’s easier to place the skate inside the post on a wraparound or walk-out play because there’s a bigger target for me to hit. When attaching the skate on the post, I need to be more precise with the power and the path of the actual push.
I’ve also noticed that when a goalie integrates their skate onto the post, they are forced to lean further back with their shoulders in order to seal the top half of the net because the hip is pushed further away from the post (even further with taller steel). This not only puts more strain on the hip, but it causes a goalie to lean their chest away from a shot, so the head is not directly over their hips or their knees. But with the boot break sealing the inside of the net, the hip rests that much closer to the post, a goalie doesn’t have to lean as much, and more importantly, the glove is not forced to stay in a static position to cover space between the hip and post.
Instead, the glove is free to be active and cover aerial angles from tricky chip shots, unexpected bounces, deflections, or pucks that flutter and flip over.
As goalies, we strive to move with a purpose at all times depending on the situation, but I’m more comfortable integrating with my boot break inside the post.
“Everyone is going to be different in the manner in which they play it anyways, and like you said, some guys are comfortable with the skate on the post, and some guys are not,” Korn said. “It’s going to vary and we’ll see how it turns out. It’s situational, and I notice Rinne sometimes has the skate on the post, and other times, when he’s hurried, he likes to go in with the boot break inside the post.”
Ultimately, as Korn mentioned above, it is a learning process that every goalie will determine over time. Unfortunately, some goalies will be experiencing a longer learning curve than others due to the lateness in which decisions were made regarding the official sizing for the new season.
Nevertheless, as stated before, whether it happens overnight or a few months into the season, goalies will adjust, and in most instances become better athletes as a result.
~ 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.