Jake Allen’s rotation adjustment under Martin Brodeur
Coming into the Stanley Cup Playoffs, most of the NHL fan base wasn’t sure what to expect from Jake Allen of the St. Louis Blues. Just before Ken Hitchcock was relieved of his duties as head coach, Allen had fallen so far in his eyes that he was scratched from the lineup. Enter Mike Yeo, a return to a zone-based defensive system, and whatever influence the great Martin Brodeur was able to exert, and Allen powered through the end of the season looking like the number 1 goalie he was projected to be.
The Western Conference First Round was Jake Allen’s coming out party, particularly in Game 1, when he stopped 51 of 52 shots in the Blues’ overtime victory against the Minnesota Wild. While the hockey world went gaga over this rebound glove save …
… the sequence that most announced Allen’s arrival on the playoff scene, and perhaps best reflected his evolution under Brodeur was this one, which occurred halfway through the overtime period.
The Wild’s Jason Zucker (16) races down the left wing, supported by Charlie Coyle (3) down the middle. The pair are defended by the Blues’ Jay Bouwmeester (19) and Carl Gunnarson (4). Zucker carries the puck all the way to the face-off circle, where he rips a wrist shot toward the top left corner. Allen blocks the high shot with his left elbow, and chaos ensues over the rebound until he’s able to cover the puck.
Watching Allen on this play highlights some of the positive changes he’s already been able to make with Brodeur but also reveals a continuing issue. As Zucker carries the puck into the offensive zone, Allen sets his position well outside the crease, with the intention of establishing backward flow on the play.
As he backs in, he adjusts his angle, squaring his shoulders to Zucker’s wide drive. (His aggressive positioning keeps him out of the range of the overhead camera.)
Allen flows backward as Zucker continues his wide drive. He appears to back up perpendicular to the goal line, along the side of the crease.
This early part of the sequence represents an improvement in his backward flow pattern compared to earlier in the season, before Brodeur took over goalie coaching duties. In the Blues’ 5-1 loss to the Kings in Los Angeles on January 12, for example, Trevor Lewis beats Allen to his far glove side after skating the puck down the left wing.
On this previous play against the Kings, Allen simply flowed straight back to his post as Lewis carried the puck further along the wing, losing his angle on the shooter as he retreated.
On the overtime play against the Wild, he appears much more focused on tracking Zucker as his angle of attack changes.
This improved execution on rush plays under Brodeur has been a big part of his turnaround.
However, few plays are ever perfect when it comes to goaltending, and the sequence against the Wild does show a tendency that can still leave Allen vulnerable in these situations.
In January against Lewis, Allen’s head is looking directly at the puck when he sets his initial position. His shoulders and body, though, are facing up ice, on a shallow, or “flat,” angle compared to the threat. It appears that his vision line is roughly 20 degrees to the right, as compared to perpendicular to his shoulders. In simpler terms, assuming that Allen’s eyes are looking directly at the puck, his shoulders are not square to the potential shot path.
Against the Wild, although he initially sets himself square to Zucker’s threat, Allen reverts to nearly the same degree of head and shoulder misalignment as Zucker carries the puck in from the wing.
Even though his shoulder orientation is still somewhat “flat” as he nears the goal line, his actions earlier in this sequence allow him to maintain a stronger positional depth as the play unfolds.
At the time of Zucker’s release, his head and shoulders remain misaligned, but he is more advantageously positioned at the edge of his crease than he would have been back in January.
Allen is quick enough to be able to nearly square his shoulders to Zucker’s shot in time for the puck to hit his left elbow.
To make this adjustment, he forcefully rotates his left shoulder and elbow forward, which is why his numbers appear slightly twisted on the overhead view. As a result of this rotation, his left arm follows through significantly forward after the impact of the puck on his elbow.
If his shoulders had been perpendicular to the shot, the action of his left shoulder and elbow would likely have resulted in a more frontal impact of the puck, and directed it either in front of him, or possibly even toward the goal line. Instead, because his shoulder angle is “flat,” his shoulders are oriented slightly up the ice, the puck hits the edge of his arm with a more glancing blow, and the rebound goes out in the direction his body was facing, i.e. into the slot. In addition, because of the rotational force of his left shoulder, Allen is rotated and pulled out of optimal net coverage.
Fortunately for Allen and the Blues, his recovery skills are exceptional, and he gets himself into decent enough position to get lucky in the scramble. At first, he seems to have the puck between his knees, but Gunnarson’s skate helps kick it free. Allen tries to corral the puck with his stick before Minnesota’s Martin Hanzal (19) and the Blues’ Jori Lehtera (12) arrive, but he can’t quite control it. The puck bounces around like a pinball until Allen is able to find and cover it, stopping the play.
Of particular note is Allen’s decision, once he’s knocked over, to stay patiently on his side across the goal line while the puck is bouncing around between skates. He seals the ice, watching intently, and waits for an opportunity to cover the puck, rather than reach for it and open space for it to slide past him on the ice.
This overtime save sequence shows that Allen’s work with Brodeur is off to a successful start, and it doesn’t appear to be limited to restoring his confidence in his own intangibles. Allen’s performance in the Blues’ playoff opener cemented his team’s confidence in his postseason ability, and showed that his strong play behind Yeo’s defensive system wasn’t just a nice run to end the regular season.