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Is Ryan Miller Actually Playing More Aggressively?

Is Ryan Miller Actually Playing More Aggressively?

Throughout his entire career Ryan Miller has been known as a goaltender that likes to live on the edge.

The edge of the crease, that is.

Vancouver Canucks goalie coach Rollie Melanson has well-known thoughts about goaltender depth, and he is usually very cautious, electing to have his goaltenders play deeper in the crease. That’s why most of the early questions when Miller signed his three-year, $18M contract were about how well he could play under Melanson’s system.

In 2014, Miller claimed that he would be reeling his game back in certain situations that called for it. Melanson budged on his stance a little bit due to Miller’s status as a veteran and perennial all-star, but the goalie was at least willing to try something new. He was getting older, after all, and playing deeper would allow for shorter pushes across the crease.

Looking at video from October of 2014, it’s clear to see that Miller was still adapting to the changes, but was definitely attempting to play deeper in his crease.

Miller2014Ex3

As the puck crosses the royal road, Miller retreats to his post. The shot from the top of the circle comes quickly, and he is very deep in his net as he makes the save.

Take note of his positioning at the time that the puck is released by the shooter.

Miller2014Ex3

Miller was not pleased with the way his first season with the Canucks went, after posting a .911 save percentage in 45 games – his worst number since 07-08. He also posted a negative goals saved above average for the first time since 07-08, as well.

In 2015 he came right out and said that he would “live and die” at the top or outside of his crease. “That’s where I have to be,” he stated with certainty.

He could be on to something.

War on Ice Zones

Here are the danger zones as defined by War-On-Ice. Yellow is low-danger, red is medium-danger, and blue is high-danger.

If you look at Miller’s danger-zone statistics, he had a fascinating season in 2014-2015. At 85.88%, he had the second-best high-danger save percentage of his career. He was stopping shots from in front of the crease and in the slot at a rate that was more than 2% higher than the league average. His issue was with medium and low-danger shot attempts, where he posted the absolute worst numbers of his career, by far.

His medium-danger save percentage was 88.55%, almost 2% lower than he has ever had in his decade-long career. Typically the amount of high-danger goals given up by a starting goaltender are double the amount of medium-danger goals that they allow. Miller? He allowed 30 medium-danger goals in 2014-2015, and only 37 high-danger goals at even strength.

Miller also struggled with low-danger scoring attempts, allowing 15 goals against at even strength, and posting the worst low-danger save percentage of his career – 96.52%.

Could Miller’s depth on shots from further out have affected his low and medium-danger save percentage? He seems to think so, based on his comments, but also based on his play.

Let’s take a look at a shot from 2015 in a similar location as the shot from 2014 posted above.

Miller2015Ex2

This play didn’t cross the royal road, but it developed quickly and forced Miller to instinctively react. Take a look at the difference in depth from only one year prior in the comparison.

MillerDepth

Those are two shots from very similar locations, and two massively different depths used by Miller. Both shots are on the edge of the low/medium danger zones, which was the area that he struggled mightily with in 2014.

It’s not a perfect comparison because the chance from 2014 has a slight threat of a pass, which would cause him to play deeper, and the 2015 chance doesn’t. Still, it would not cause such a dramatic difference in depth, so the point still stands.

Looking at more video from 2015, it seems like Miller is making a conscious effort to stay out on the top of his crease when the puck remains high in the zone, and on quickly-developing plays that cross the royal road. He is not reverting back to his posts anymore.

Some goaltenders are just more comfortable playing at a depth that some would judge to be “extreme.”

Jonathan Quick is a great example of a goaltender that loves playing at extreme depth, despite the challenges that come with it. Every goaltender is different and may enjoy playing at different depths for various reasons.

Depth should be viewed as a give-and-take. By being more aggressive, a goaltender takes away more “front door” opportunities from the shooter, but allows the “back door” to be left more vulnerable. A more conservative goaltender like Mike Smith or Henrik Lundqvist will allow more front door space for the skater to shoot at, but almost zero back door opportunity.

There is no right or wrong way to do it, but generally goaltenders that are better skaters and have stronger pushes can play at a more extreme depth because they are able to recover and get to back door plays even if they are far outside of the crease.

Melanson’s hunch with Miller may have been that as he gets older, he needs to play deeper because that explosiveness isn’t quite there anymore. It wasn’t a bad idea, but that approach clearly did not work for Miller when it came to low and medium-danger plays.

While Miller’s depth adjustment may have been a swing and a miss, his play down low and on sharp angle plays is better than ever before. His work with Melanson to incorporate better post-integration habits has done wonders for his game on plays from the slot and near the goal line.

If early indications from this season are to be believed, Miller is bouncing in and out of reverse-VH with the explosiveness of a 25-year-old version of himself. His recoveries are much smoother now that he is more comfortable with some of the movements, and he’s setting himself up for success on quickly-developing plays more than ever before.

It’s a small sample size, but after six games, Miller is posting the best high-danger and medium-danger save percentages of his career. He’s only allowed two combined medium and low danger goals on 102 shots.

So, to answer the original question, yes, Miller is playing much more aggressively on chances from further out. He may be pretty close to finding the perfect mix of comfortable depth, and modern technique on plays down low. He’s looking good, and he may be the only hope that the Canucks have this season.

Miller2015Ex1

 

About The Author

Greg Balloch

Greg Balloch is a Vancouver-based writer for InGoal Magazine, broadcaster for Sportsnet 650, and goaltending coach. His career began in Hamilton, Ontario with the Junior 'A' Hamilton Red Wings, before moving to Vancouver to cover the Canucks on the radio and work with the Surrey Eagles of the BCHL. A lifelong goaltender, he has been teaching the position for over a decade.

6 Comments

  1. Joe Feeney

    I’m a more agressive goaltender and coach than Melanson is, and have a strong belief in coming out to take the space and view of the net away. THere may be some validity in staying deeper in the net to be able to cross the crease, but you also have to move much more to make saves on good shots, or they may even just hit you if you’re further out. You also have more chance to block passes and control play and rebounds.

    THe idea is to be able to control rebounds into the corners, if you can not tie the puck up. This can be very difficult if you are too deep, just look very carefully at the Stanley cup loosing rebound. Henrique Lundquist was very deep in his net, had to stretch almost parallel to the goal line, leaving a rebound well in front of the goal line, for a great scoring chance, which was converted. Being a bit more aggressive at the top of the crease, gives a chance to angle the pad back and move the puck into the corner away from a scoring position.

    There are many different preferences, and the object is to stop the puck, or more specifically not let it in the net. NO one way is best, and styles that are unique may even be helpful in they confuse the shooters, ala Dominic Hasek.

  2. George

    I just shake my head when folks try to show a pro style and think anyone can play it.. Well i have lots of years on ice and can tell you like i told my high school fellow. You my play back in the net like the KING but you dont have the Rangers in front of you.. I have proved it over and over that different depths in situations makes a big difference in a first save as well as rebound control.. One size does not fit all.. Even in mens league… Let the fun begin..

  3. Paul Ipolito

    “Jonathan Quick is a great example of a goaltender that loves playing at extreme depth,”

    I have not had any opportunity to see Quick in this early season, but I seem to remember him playing very aggressively at the top (and beyond) of the crease. Perhaps he has also modified his positioning?

    • Greg Balloch

      Extreme depth = far outside the crease

      • Paul Ipolito

        Thank you. I mistakenly thought “depth” was measured from the top of the crease back to the goal line. Hence Lundqvist would play with “extreme depth” and Quick would be the polar opposite. You really do learn something every day.

  4. Eli

    Nice article, several good points. At the end of the day, every situation calls for a different response. In my opinion, the 2 examples you highlighted (one from 2014 & one from 2015) are completely different and therefore call for completely different reactions. Let me elaborate:

    The 2014 play was a well executed center lane drive by Edmonton. On the play, the EDM LW enters zone with the puck while the C drives the middle lane and the RW delays just a bit and holds the far dot lane. Miller has seen this play executed hundreds of times and is able to read where the threats are at. He has to respect the center driving the middle lane and also has to be ready for a cross ice pass to the far side. When the pass is made, he moves back through the middle of his crease (focusing on angle before depth) and gathers his feet before the shot is taken. He also still has EDM4 driving to the back post.

    The 2015 play is a quick strike 1 on 4. Miller is able to play this much more aggressive because EDM 93 has no pass options, has 3 defenders between him and the net, and is outside the circles when he shoots.

    To me, these examples don’t illustrate that Miller is making a conscious effort to play more aggressive. Rather that he reads the play well and has a good feel for when he needs to challenge and when he needs to play deeper and let the play develop. Thoughts?