NHL Analysis: Hiller and Importance of Timely Saves
I’m often asked what part of coaching goalies I love the most. To be honest, it’s a long list. But, if I had to pick one, it’s helping goalies understand their role within the team game. It’s easy to get caught up in the whole notion that a goalie is alone “back there.”
An aspect of this is understanding the need to make timely saves.
On Monday, the Calgary Flames faced off against the Carolina Hurricanes. Flames forward David Jones put his team up 1-0 just over halfway through the first period on a power play goal.
And then this happened:
It’s obvious that’s a goal Hiller wants back. You can tell by his reaction. There’s an important lesson to be learned.
Over the years, especially the past three as a member of the Carleton Place Canadians in the Central Canada Hockey League, I have learned a lot about what it takes to prepare an entire team to compete and perform at the best of its ability. So, it came as no surprise to see Flames head coach Bob Hartley refer to the team’s effort on the road trip as “okay.”
Hartley expanded on his comments in an article on the team website following the game against the Hurricanes:
“There’s the mix of the two,” he said. “I felt that tonight we got the first goal and you get the first goal on the road game, you did your job. But after this, we just let them come on us. That’s not typically of this hockey club. We’re better than this and we know it. Tomorrow morning is going to be okay but this is a hard one to swallow.”
If you’re a goalie or parent of a goalie reading this, maybe you’ve heard comments like these before.
If you’re a coach, maybe you’ve felt like and/or said something similar.
From a coaching perspective, I can help you read between the lines and tell you why that goal against Hiller was especially difficult:
– The Flames ended the month of October on a five game home stand. Their record: 2-1-2.
– To kick off the month of November, they started a five-game, 10-day road trip through the Eastern conference with stops in Montreal, Washington, Tampa Bay, Florida, and Carolina. That’s 10 points up for grabs. Their record after four games: 3-1. They have six of eight points in the bag and are set to face the Hurricanes in their fifth and final game before returning home.
– The Hurricanes have started to turn the corner, picking up wins over Arizona, Los Angeles, and Columbus twice (once on the road and once at home). Their only loss in November up until the game against the Flames came against the Capitals in overtime.
– Leading 1-0, and outshooting the Hurricanes 4-3 (thanks, graphic in the top left corner), the Flames are just minutes away from taking the lead into the first intermission. At that point, that’s the best case scenario.
Now, for the technical breakdown. There’s nothing complicated about it.
For one, the play developed at centre ice (actually, you can even see it unfold from inside Carolina’s blueline in the video clip).
As a goalie, your immediate thought is to identify the situation as it reaches centre ice. It’s a developing 1-on-2 that turns into a 1-on-3, all in favour of the Flames. When it’s a 1-on-2, you have to know your team has the advantage just based on the numbers and you need to make sure you’re not giving the shooter any more space than they might have just based on where they are on the ice. Flames defenseman Dennis Wideman (6) kept Boychuk to the outside the whole time. He’s doing his job and being defensively responsible.
Hiller’s in pretty good shape as the play reaches the face off circle. Look at his positioning here:
To me, his depth is good and not an issue for the whole play. I realize some coaches might want to see him be a little more aggressive, but I think this is just fine.
This is where things start to go wrong. Notice how he is no longer square to the puck and starts moving towards the post. Also, count the number of Flames players already back in their own zone.
Finally, this is his positioning on the goal:
Now, here’s what the goalie coach in me takes into consideration after watching the video clip.
– Up until that point, Boychuk had two goals on the year. It’s possible Hiller didn’t think he was going to shoot and anticipated him carrying the puck into the corner or around the net. Remember, there was one Flames player on him and two others in the zone. Boychuk was the lone Hurricanes player.
– For a split second, it looks like Wideman might have been able to poke the puck away from Boychuk, delaying Hiller’s reaction to stay square – possibly. While we’re talking about the responsibility of players on a team, sure, maybe Wideman could’ve played the situation differently (e.g. poked the puck off Boychuk’s stick or played the body). But, still.
– And, yes, it was a good shot (I think it might have even hit Hiller on the side of his mask and went in).
Here’s the thing: None of that matters.
Whether you’re facing a two goal scorer or a 20-goal scorer, that’s a save you need to make.
We file that under timely saves. Some are more timely than others, some are bigger than others, and some are just routine. The point is that they’re made. A goalie’s decision making is often amplified given the appropriate context.
Take into account everything I mentioned above and Hartley’s comments. In Hiller’s situation, that shot could’ve just been a routine, timely save. It’s about reading the situation from centre ice. It’s about the fundamentals of staying square to the shooter. Better positioning would’ve given him a better chance of stopping the puck and he could’ve reacted a number of different ways to do just that.
I’ve said this before, being mentally tough as a goaltender is more than getting over a bad goal or poor outing. Mental toughness is being able to consistently make the right decisions. I don’t like excuses. I recognize and accept the fact that fatigue and other factors may have been part of the equation, but I don’t think using it as an excuse does anybody any favours.
It’s easy to get caught up in the technical parts of the game sometimes. I’m guilty of it. We all are. But, let’s not lower our standard of what’s an expected save and what isn’t. Let’s especially not lose sight of the fact that, sometimes, your team just needs a save. It doesn’t matter how big or small.
What does matter, though, is recognizing this. It’s important to be aware of situations like these in a game. And, while you’re being aware of what’s happening in a game, it’s important to consistently make the right decisions.