Sophomore Success is Critical for Eddie Lack
The 2013-2014 season was a wild ride for the 26 year-old Eddie Lack. It was a season in which he made great strides, endured an abnormally large amount of mental stress, but still managed to stay positive. It was, in many ways, a year of learning for the 6-foot-5 Swede.
The two major questions coming into the season were about his health after hip surgery ended his 2012-2013 season, and his ability to track NHL-calibre shots. He stayed healthy for the majority of the season, showing his surgically repaired hip is fine, but his second-half decline left many in Vancouver wondering about his future as a starting NHL goaltender.
It was an up and down season for Lack, both mentally and statistically. He was the backup to Luongo to start the season and shone in minimal action in 2013, putting up great numbers. His 7-2-1 record with a .929 save percentage and 1.84 goals against average through January 1 was enough to earn a two-year extension worth $2.3-million.
It was at that point things started to change in Vancouver.
The team slowly started slipping, and Lack received more starts leading up to the Olympic break in February. Luongo was eventually traded in early March after the well-publicized Heritage Classic game controversy, in which Lack was named the starting goaltender. He would go on to start a career-high 14 games in the month of March.
The decision to start Lack at the Heritage Classic caught many fans by surprise. Lack even admitted that he was not expecting to start in the game. It was a tough situation for the young goalie to handle, having to step in and play in front of 57,000-plus rowdy Vancouver fans at BC Place that were already displeased at the way the season was progressing.
“I knew there was going to be drama – yes,” Lack said. “That Luongo was going to be traded? No. It’s part of the business and I felt like I handled it good. Obviously everyone wanted Lu to play that game but it was a great experience for me.”
After the Luongo trade, Lack was officially thrust into the No.1 role and started 19 consecutive games as a rookie, tying a franchise record. His play notably slipped as well, posting a 9-15-4 record, .905 save percentage and 2.64 goals against average in his final 28 games of the season. There were some embarrassing games along the way, none bigger than March 10th against the New York Islanders. Lack and the Canucks blew a 3-0 lead in the 3rd period, surrendering a total of 7 goals (one empty netter) in the final frame, on the way to a 7-4 loss.
Eddie leaned on his goalie coach, Rollie Melanson, to get through the tough times.
“I tried not to get too high when I had a good game and not get too low when I had a bad game,” he said. “Rollie’s been a great support system for me there.”
The mental strain that comes with being a No.1 goaltender in the NHL was a lot for Lack to handle. While the wear and tear of starting 19 straight games started to drain him physically, Lack felt like he made a lot of strides this season to remain mentally strong.
“When you’re playing a lot, you’re a bit more tired in between [games], but I still feel like I was able to pump myself up,” Lack said.
He may have stayed mentally strong, but the statistics don’t lie. The reduced down time in between games resulted in the appearance of a few simple and correctable mistakes in his game. Mistakes that could have been ironed out with more time at practice with his goalie coach.
Luongo’s biggest issue used to be his habit of falling flat on his stomach when moving laterally. He made great strides to correct it in recent years by working on his core strength and focusing on keeping his back straighter as he moved across to keep his balance. It took a lot of practice, but even at an older age Luongo recognized it was something that needed to be fixed in order for him to improve. Now it is a rarity to see Luongo sprawled out flat on his belly. At 26 years old, there is still plenty of time for Lack to correct his bad habits.
Lack’s issue is a bit puzzling because it is almost the complete opposite of Luongo’s. It appears he is causing himself to become off balance while moving laterally because his back is too straight. It may be a result of years of practice at keeping his body up, but it actually seems to be causing him to pull away from the puck and end up on the seat of his pants. He doesn’t get to the puck as quickly as he may otherwise be able to, and falling backwards makes it very difficult for him to make a second save in a sequence. Here are a few examples:
Some of the instances in which it happened were during moments of desperation, but it is still important to try and stay balanced.
Once a goalie ends up sitting down or flat on their stomach, they are out of the play and cannot react to any rebound opportunity.
The best goalies in the league are not only able to make desperation saves, but second and third effort saves as well. If Lack wants to become an elite-level NHL goaltender, this is an issue that needs to be corrected.
It’s not happening to Lack just when he is moving laterally, either. Sometimes it happens as a result of not coming completely set when challenging a shooter. In order to stay balanced it is absolutely imperative to come to a complete stop in the set position. It is to hard to react properly to a shot if the feet aren’t planted, as we can see in these examples:
Those are two eerily similar goals caused by the same issue: balance. In Lack’s case, perhaps due to his height, he falls backward when attempting to make an off-balance save. Drifting out like that can also be caused by fatigue. It happens a lot during long penalty kills, when the puck is unable to clear the zone. Instead of pushing across hard and stopping, the goalie drifts over and never comes to a complete stop.
More time off between games would have given Lack time to work on this issue with coaches, but fatigue from playing so many games in a row made it virtually impossible. As a result, this needs to be an area of focus during his off-season training sessions.
For a solution, Lack and his Swedish goalie coach Pekka Alcén should look at the changes Carey Price made this past season. Changing Price’s stance was one of the first things Stéphane Waite worked on when he was brought to Montreal. He widened Price’s stance slightly, brought his glove and blocker forward, and made him tilt his shoulders.
The key change was the tilting of the shoulders. It allowed Price’s head to be more engaged when following the puck, making it easier to track and see through a screen. Young goalies are always taught at a young age to lead with their eyes, because where the head goes, the rest of the body will follow. Also as a result of the tilted shoulders, when the puck hits the goaltender up high on the chest, it has a greater chance of dropping straight down for an easy collection of the rebound.
To clarify, Price is not hunching down and sticking his butt out more, he is simply angling his shoulders to a degree which makes sense when you look at him from the puck’s point of view at ice level. It has helped Price immensely with his rebound control during scramble plays around the slot area. It has been a fantastic adjustment when the puck is in close proximity to the net, and the results show with the success he has had this season.
If Lack is able to emulate this, it may cause his weight to stay forward. If his head and eyes become more engaged while moving laterally, it could keep him balanced so he can drive more forcefully toward the puck rather than fall away from it like he has a habit of doing.
This year was an important development year for Lack, but 2014-2015 may be even bigger. He is at an age where he can no longer be considered a “prospect” and needs to start to show signs of becoming an elite goaltender. Looking back, he had a rookie season to be proud of, but it is crucial for him to improve. He’s heading into the most important off season of his career, and he knows it.
“I missed last summer with my surgery and everything. Now I’m looking forward to getting a good summer under my belt,” Lack said “Coming into training camp next season will be a little bit easier. I have all summer to digest all of this and I’m going to be ready to step it up.”
He needs to come back stronger than ever before. With the uncertainty surrounding the team, he can’t afford a sophomore slump.