Before The Shot: Schneider Elite Patience On Skates
Earlier this week, MSG Network’s Stephen Valiquette and Chris Boyle made the case for New Jersey Devils goalie Cory Schneider to be considered one of the NHL’s elite.
Looking at Schneider’s face-value (e.g. save percentage) and advanced statistics such as expected save percentage and high-danger save percentage, it’s easy to see the value Schneider brings to the Devils, who at the time of writing this article, sit 12th in the Eastern conference and have a negative goal differential (-5).
One part of Valiquette and Boyle’s analysis stood out to me in particular:
One of Schneider’s greatest strengths is his ability to hold his edges. The goal of opposing forwards is to limit the amount of information a goaltender can accumulate before a shot. This is why quick releases and pre-shot movement are so integral to offensive success. If a forward can disguise his intentions long enough, he can force a goaltender into making the first decision. This allows the forward to use the information he gains to his advantage.
Here’s an example of how Schneider’s patience on his feet gave him the best option of reacting to a back door scoring chance on a 5-on-3 penalty kill against the Arizona Coyotes:
When an opposing team has a two-man advantage, their objective is simple: Move the puck as fast as possible to open up seams in the coverage of the team killing the penalty. We start this sequence after the Coyotes have won an offensive zone faceoff and have moved the puck three times in a matter of three seconds of playing time. Additionally, Michael Stone (26) and Oliver Ekman-Larsson (23) have switched positions since the Coyotes won the faceoff, moving Ekman-Larsson to the middle of the ice.
Although the puck has moved three times already, it isn’t until the fourth movement that we see action from Schneider. But, it happens quickly. Stone moves the puck to Ekman-Larsson who then makes a one-touch pass across and to the opposite side of the ice to Shane Doan (19).
Here, we see Schneider followed Ekman-Larsson’s cross ice pass to Doan and arrived on his skates, but isn’t completely square to Doan’s stick. He’s flat on the goal line. There’s a reason.
First, I want to reiterate what I mentioned above, the objective of the team on the power play, especially on a two-man advantage, is to open up seams in the defending team. In this sequence, here’s how the Coyotes do this:
- They move the puck quickly off the draw;
- Antoine Vermette is in front of the net and runs a pick on the Devils defenseman; and
- Mikael Boedker takes a relatively wide route and positions himself positioned at the far post.
As soon as Doan gets control of the puck, which he actually has to corral off of his left skate, he has two options in prime scoring areas in front of the net.
Now, there’s no doubt in my mind that the Devils coaching staff had a good idea that the Coyotes would be looking to hit the front or backdoor threat if given the opportunity with a 5-on-3. After all, Doan is more of a playmaker than, say, an Alex Ovechkin or Steven Stamkos, who have been terrorizing goalies from that general position of the ice for years as one-timer threats.
Let’s go back to Schneider and why being flat on the goal line is the right move in this situation.
The positioning of his lead foot, which in this situation is his left, is important because it ultimately determines how efficient he will end up being in his movement(s).
Think of it this way: If Schneider was completely square to Doan, both of his feet would be pointing to the short side (where Doan is). If the puck is moved to the opposite side of the ice, Schneider would be required to make an extra movement, such as a pivot, before making his move. This often takes more time and can ultimately impact the rate of success for a goalie, something InGoal’s Greg Balloch illustrated in a recent analysis of Ondrej Pavelec.
By remaining flat on the goal line, and positioning his left foot facing up the ice, Schneider is able to move more efficiently anywhere to the middle or far side of the ice.
Essentially, Schneider is able to cover more options and increase his rate of success against the more high percentage options presented to him by the Coyotes.
Lastly, we can see in these two frames how quickly Schneider is able to transfer his weight across the ice, moving laterally from his right to left, and begin extending his left pad to seal the ice. His patience and lead foot positioning allow him to move with power, speed, and accuracy in this situation.
Patience is a virtue
In this example, we see Schneider demonstrate so many things he does well that Valiquette and Boyle attribute to his elite-level skill: He holds his feet, giving him more options to choose his save selection, he stays patient on his feet while following the pass from Ekman-Larsson across the ice to Doan, and he shows his athleticism down low.
Many years ago, I remember Manny Fernandez, who was then playing for the Minnesota Wild, say that the longer a goalie stayed on his feet, the more options they give themselves to stay in the play and react accordingly.
I believe that theory stands true today and, if you look at the most successful goalies in the game these days, I’m sure you’ll notice how patient they remain on their feet and committing to the ice only when they have to.
~ Eli Rassi is currently the goaltending coach with the Carleton Place Jr. “A” Canadians in the Central Canada Hockey League. He is also an instructor and consultant with Complete Goaltending Development (CGD). CGD offers on-ice group, semi-private and private training programs, and consulting services for minor hockey associations, for goaltenders at all levels in Ottawa at its training facility in the city’s West end, the Complete Hockey Development Centre. For more information, please visit www.chdcentre.com or www.cgdgoalies.com