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Is VH Technique Costing Tokarski and Canadiens?

Is VH Technique Costing Tokarski and Canadiens?
St. Louis Goal 5

It may not have mattered given Martin St. Louis put this shot off the cross bar and in, but as this screen shot from the NBC Sports footage of the Game 4 overtime winning goal shows, the curious use of VH as a save selection left Montreal’ Dustin Tokarski square to the corner, not the shooter.

Dustin Tokarski has already authored an impressive story for the Montreal Canadiens in these Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Going from the Black Ace to the starting goaltender in the Eastern Conference Finals is a huge ask, especially almost a month after your last game action at the end of the American Hockey League regular season. But after admitting to some extra nerves and appearing a little behind the play in his first start in Game 2 at home, Tokarski was the biggest reason Montreal won Game 3 in Madison Square Garden and kept the Canadiens in Game 4 with several highlight reel stops before losing in overtime.

So this certainly isn’t meant as a criticism of the impressive 24-year-old, who is once again proving that being 5-foot-11 doesn’t prevent you from stopping pucks on the biggest stage, something he’s done before while winning a World Junior and AHL championship. But as a learning tool it’s worth asking whether Tokarski’s use of the VH, or one-pad down technique, is costing him.

It certainly appeared to on the Game 4 overtime goal by Martin St. Louis:

Again, not to blame Tokarski, who had already robbed St. Louis on a breakaway in Game 4 and several times since taking over from an injured Carey Price as the Canadiens starter. It’s not the goalie’s fault his teammates keep leaving a sniper like St. Louis wide open, and the former Art Ross Trophy winner as the League’s leading scorer put that shot in off the bottom of the cross bar. And from that range Tokarksi may simply be in “block” mode, with St. Louis in a spot where he doesn’t think he’ll have time to react, and chooses to use a VH-style blocking save.

Still, the VH is a curious save selection on a shot that starts from just below the face-off dot. Used primarily as a save technique on plays from below the bottom of the face-off circle, the VH, or one-pad down, provides a good post seal on sharp-angle attacks. But in this case, rather than seal the post and square up the torso to a puck coming off the goal line, the VH causes Tokarski’s left shoulder to actually pull away from where the puck is going, squaring up to a dead-angle attack but losing squareness on St. Louis’ shot from the dot.

In other words, as these screen shots from the NBC footage show, it moves Tokarski out of the way:

St. Louis goal 2

Watch how Tokarski’s left shoulder opens up as he drops into VH:

St. Louis Goal 3

St. Louis Goal 4

By the time the puck gets to Tokarski, he is squared up to that sharp angle, and not the shot:

St. Louis Goal 5

Again, it may not have mattered given the perfect placement from St. Louis, a noted sniper who had twice been turned away spectacularly by Tokarski from a similar spot in Game 3.

As this still frame from the NBC broadcast shows, Tokarski was inches from getting a piece of the winning goal from St. Louis.

As this still frame from the NBC broadcast shows, Tokarski was inches from getting a piece of the winning goal from St. Louis.

It’s also worth pointing out that it’s overtime of Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Final at Madison Square Garden, and Tokarski doesn’t have the luxury of freeze framing his choice of save selections. But it remains a good example for other goalies about the limits of VH, why most goaltending coaches try to map out a zone where it is most effective, and the importance of sticking to those guidelines.

That’s especially true when you see how close Tokarski was to getting a piece of the puck in the screen shot on the right, and consider how much more of the vertical angle might have been cut off with Tokarski’s  left shoulder pressed forward rather than pulled back.

Tokarksi certainly took advantage of a forward press with the glove to cut off the vertical angle on St. Louis in the final minute of Game 3:

Combine that with his windmill glove stop on St. Louis on a breakaway earlier in Game 4 …

… and the VH save selection becomes a little more curious because it is such a pure “blocking” save, one that locks up goalies, effectively eliminating the glove hand he’d already flashed so effectively on St. Louis.

It’s also not the only time it could be argued the VH has cost Tokarski in this series.

Shortly after the Game 3 robbery of St. Louis, the Rangers tied the game on a sharp angle play that bounced in off the skate of Canadiens defenseman Alexei Emelin.

While that goal also may have gone in either way, more than a few well-educated observers on Twitter wondered if the Reverse-VH may have given Tokarski a better chance, not only of getting to a puck that slid into the middle of the open net, but perhaps of cutting it off before it got there.

That’s because the Reverse puts more of the goalie in between the posts, rather than up against and outside it like the VH, and because the short side pad is down on the ice to cut off more of the crease to pucks getting through, and on glove-side attacks the blocker hand is also freer to use the stick to cut off those passes.

Again, this isn’t to blame Tokarski, who has gone toe-to-toe with Henrik Lundqvist, but more to spark a discussion on save selection. You can check out the situational usage guide to the Reverse that InGoal’s Greg Balloch put together recently, or leave comments and suggestions below.

About The Author

Kevin Woodley

Kevin Woodley is a rec-league target and former contributing editor of the Goalie News magazine. He has written about the Vancouver Canucks and NHL for The Associated Press, USA Today, Sports Illustrated and The Hockey News for the last decade, and covered the 2010 Olympics for The AP.


  1. Michael C

    That was a very well played game. I am no hockey player but I can really tell what is a good game and what is not. Wait, this kind of game never fails to bore me. I’m interested to see a reverse-VH being executed instead the one that’s been used. That’s another constructive lesson for the player.

  2. B

    Tokarksi made the correct save selection,however the way in which he held his glove was the problem. I’ve made this save selection many times from this angle(I’m 5’11 as well), usually against right handed shooters coming down this wing. You will notice how Tokarski has his glove held horizontal rather then palm up or vertical. If his glove is held up I can almost guarantee he makes the save or gets a piece of it. I use this technique against some very good shooters and it works almost everytime(that is if they go high glove). This wasn’t a VH save selection as much as it was a half butterfly to try and make himself bigger, but the way he executed it with his glove was the problem. One more thing to note, is that he had a d-man right there, so he could have came out and challenged more and most likely made the save. Either way the kid played a hell of a game, and unfortunately got stranded by his D.

    • cg3332

      I was thinking the same. His glove hand placement was the error.

    • James Nolan

      With the defence cutting off other options (as bad as it was to leave St.Louis open that long) I too wondered why Tokarski was not more aggressive……at 5 ft 9, I do a slight push out on that play to take more angle……

  3. GregW

    B my thoughts exactly, glove was in the wrong position.

  4. JT

    I am old school, but I am trying to be open minded to the VH. I’ve seen way too many goals at the amateur, junior, college and pro level over the goalies shoulder on the short side to be convinced that is the VH the proper save selection in this situation. Tokarski could’ve just stayed in his stance, and the puck would’ve hit him. One of the golden rules of goaltending has always been to never give up a short sided goal, has this changed? If so, why?

    • joe Feeney

      Glad to see some other old heads coming out of the wood work! There are a plethora of different techniques being talked about as “THe Way” to make saves in different circumstances. THis is a lie!! There is too much talk of the “Butterfly Style” as the only way to play goal. Techniques are part of a tool box, and there should be no fixed “STYLE”. Do what you need to stop the puck. THere have been numerous goals in these playoffs on more than stoppable shots, which a fifty year old stand up goalie would have stopped! They would have been hit in the shoulder, or chest since they would not have gone down. The NHL network will not analyze these plays since they are tied to the butterfly style at this point.

  5. Ruddiger

    No B, the VH was the wrong save selection, the right one would have been to stay on his feet and play it as any other shot.

    With the VH you sacrifice mobility and a solid five hole seal, for what? A “better” post seal? If you can’t seal a post without the VH you should just give up. The reverse VH allows you full arm mobility, and full torso mobility, while giving you a solid and familiar base (the butterfly) to work from. You can easily lift your torso up to take away the top of the net, and you seal off the bottom completely. Pads are designed to close the 5 hole KNEE TO KNEE. Trying to seal it knee to foot is just asking for trouble, and I don’t know how many “weak” goals I’ve seen as a result of guys just sitting there trusting their VH. If you want to really show how costly this technique is, go back to the Vancouver Olympics Gold Medal Game, and the goal that eliminated the Flyers in the Stanley Cup final, if you want to the see the VH REALLY cost some teams. It’s already DIRECTLY cost teams, on the two biggest stages in the sport, championships. Yet we STILL use it and teach it? Learn people.

  6. colton

    B, i agree with you when he wouldve made the save it his glove was vertical. But that is definetly not the correct save solection. all he needed to do was read the pass to st louis who was wide open at 14:02 and than move out a foot and get square before he shoots at 13:59. even if he blocked and was aggresive it would hit him or go over the net every time. where a glove save from a vh its a much more difficult save

    • B

      I agree with everything you said, but I think your getting it wrong when you call it a VH. The VH is a post save selection, this was a half butterfly. He should have came out a bit more or held his glove higher,end of story. I don’t even know why the VH is being talked about.

  7. Paul

    My immediate thought on his save selection was twofold: 1) he was possibly thinking that there was a chance that St. Louis might pass rather than shoot and 2) a lack of patience due to lack of experience in similar situations. Because of Emelin’s brain fart coverage and painfully slow skating towards St. Louis, Tokarski must have been trying to deal with all the options available to St. Louis. I’m not a huge fan of the reverse-VH, but given that St-Louis could have continued to skate closer in (unchallenged–thanks, Emelin!), possibly cutting in front of the crease, I think Tokarski blinked first trying to go with a more versatile save choice. In the screen captures, it almost looks like St. Louis is looking to see if he has a pass option behind Emelin just before he releases the shot (which was beautifully placed).

    A costly rookie mistake with a big assist to the very weak defensive zone coverage.

  8. hammerwielder

    I was drawn to this site because of my belief that Tokarski was at fault for the goal. The discussion here is interesting but I disagree that Tokarski made a “save selection” when he collapsed into VH (or not VH depending on the viewpoint). The discussion of “save selection” ignores the fact that St. Louis faked the shot. His fake caused Tokarski to go down early. The first screen shot clearly shows Tokarski square to the shooter in butterfly. St. Louis, having all day, then fakes and hesitates. If you look at the first screen shot, clearly Tokarski, though square in butterfly, has erred in his net coverage as he has overcovered the far side while leaving a small opening short side. I believe St. Louis saw this. His fake caused Tokarski to go down and drop his left shoulder in the process and I can well imagine St. Louis’s eyes having become wide as saucers at this point. He snapped the shot high short side through the bigger opening that Tokarski had left by going down.

    Tokarski should also have moved closer to St. Louis if possible since his d-man had taken the deke away. Had he done so, even if he had gone down as he did, he may still have stopped the shot.

    Having said all that, the shooter’s choice was based on what the goalie gave him. Had Tokarski stayed square, not gone down, and not left any room short side, St. Louis might have tried five-hole. Tokarski’s reactions clearly indicate he was worried about five-hole.

  9. pipolito

    I believe the guy playing at the other end would have stayed on his feet and made it look relatively simple.

  10. John

    I feel as well, as an even shorter goalie, the problem lies within the traditional horizontal glove position. This technique also burned Bryz earlier in the playoffs against chicago. If you watch here, my third save at the beginning (don’t have to watch the whole video) is a very similar situation, with the exception of me using a different save selection, along with a Varlamov-esque glove position. The glove staying vertical prevents any puck from entering the top corner.

    But at this point, can’t do much… back to watching Quick.

  11. Paul Ipolito

    Is there an unwritten law regarding standing up to make a save? I think I get the whole thing about butterfly save selections, but when did it become a lifestyle? Every day I see young kids hitting their knees to make a glove save at about their shoulder height. If they stood up, wouldn’t that result in a glove save at or about waist height? Forgive my ignorance (And I have a ton of it), but what am I missing here? Thanks.

    • B

      If you watch Tokarski(and many other NHL goalies) you will see they make many saves standing up, albeit from further out where they have more time to react. When the puck is in closer and your in your crouch it is tougher to react and make a stand up save(depending on how low the goalie’s stance).Also, if you squirt out a rebound in the butterfly,as opposed to standing up, you will be much better prepared for any second chances as you have the bottom half all sealed off(which is where there going). I understand what your saying though, and that just comes down to reaction time and reading releases, (which a goalie like Lundqvist does wonderfully in close), but in today’s game we have become accustomed to always defaulting to dropping down(for many good reasons), which is why challenging is important if your a bit smaller, or resorting to a half butterfly which Tokarski did on that particular shot. That’s just my two cents though,hope that helped a bit.

      • Paul Ipolito

        Good comments. Thanks!

  12. BeninLondon

    This looks an awful lot like VH in my opinion, especially when you look at the picture from over St. Louis’ shoulder. I fully agree with the article about it being used too far up in the zone instead of waiting for him to make it down to a sharper angle. From the VH you sacrifice glove mobility (even more so if you are the average beer leaguer that doesn’t get a chance to practice the technique) and I think it was the lack of mobility in the upper body that stopped him from getting a glove on it.
    If you watch the goal right as it passes him he doesn’t have that visual attachment with the puck and actually turns his head over the other shoulder after it gets by him. This is all speculation but it makes me think that he was in “blocking-mode”.
    I would be very interested to hear what the pro goalie coaches take on the whole situation is.

  13. Blaars60

    I think the real problem is the fact Markov has it on his stick and flips a weak backhander off the boards right to the Rangers. Prior to that there was another failed clearing attempt and too many guys just standing around. It’s easy to pick apart what the goalie did watching it over and over and over again, he should of done this instead of that yada yada yada. They should of cleared the puck, had two chances and failed. Let’s talk about that instead. It looked like St.Louis might pass the puck also then he snaps it home. Let’s give credit where credit is due, he made a hell of a shot. You can talk about styles all day, well I got news for you, if it’s a stand up goalie playing St.Louis takes a different shot and blows it through 5-hole or maybe low to the stick side. There is a reason they don’t teach the stand-up style anymore fellas. I still blame the D and the forwards for not getting back or getting it out.

  14. DSM

    Nervousness causes even pros to play percentages. All this is is a butterfly with a high glove, since he knows he likes to go there. The fact that it is a VH didn’t make it one in application, IMO.

  15. ZJ

    Tokarski has been playing a great series no question but as soon as that goal was netted I commented that the save selection was incorrect. When you break down save selection into bite size teachable pieces you have to look at your options and evaluate which one would have given you the best chance to have the easiest post save recovery as possible as well as eliminate the chance for a off square rebound.

    1. Ready for the shot and make save selection.

    Areas of emphasis
    1. what save selection gives you the highest probability to prevent a off square rebound?
    2. what save selection gives you the highest probability of not having a difficult post save recovery?
    3. what save selection gives you the highest probability of not having to save the puck with your pads? (always have a stick to puck mentality first. pads are the hardest to control rebounds from.)
    4. try to prevent blocking saves at all costs due to the fact the other 3 things mentioned above will lower the probability of happening when you “BLOCK”

    Reaction saves where you are managing depth are the best at the highest levels because it increases your probability to have a smooth post save and/or square rebound. If you look at the VH save selection it is a “blocking save”. You could argue it shouldnt be used from a shot coming from that part of the ice. If he shoots far side there is little stick gap to control the puck to a square rebound. If he shoots low/middle short side you are exposing pad face the most which in a blocking situation increases the probability to that there is a off square rebound. This is why we teach and focus on goalie specific skating as the foundation for succesful goaltenders. If you skate well you put yourself the athlete in the best possible positioning to make a reaction save and lower the probability of the things I mentioned above. (ie Jonathan Quick- probably the best goalie specific skater in the league…Conn Smythe maybe another Cup)

    All in all I think he would like that one back but its been a joy to watch these playoffs. I commend all the goalies as they get better and better every year and in all reality have less than a second to process the save selection. (I love a 5″11 guy getting a crack at the show. proves if your an athlete and can skate you can still make it at the higher levels.)


  16. Alex Kotai

    I guess everyone didn’t notice the two chances that the Montreal players botched trying to get the puck out of the zone. These were the errors that caused the goal. The puck should have out of their end twice. Even if he was standing up the puck would have still gone in between his mask and glove.

  17. Bruce

    Well one pad down or two, give me a break. It still gives the top of the net to score. Where are the Jacque Plante or Bernie Parent goalie’s? Stand up goalies are the best, but none in the NHL. Hell when you stand up and face, challenge the shooter, you give him much less to score. If the superstars from the past were playing today, they would be the best goalies in the league. And in their day they used much smaller equipment. I

  18. Chris

    Bruce I personally believe that “stand-up” goalies should be considered in the same way “butterfly” goalies are. It’s not a style but a save selection, too many goalies go down to soon including myself. I firmly believe that keepers who more effectively master goaltending based out of the butterfly will have more success getting across the net quicker and are able to recover into more appropriate saves better than goalies who aren’t able to use it. That being said the butterfly is “over-utilized”, more goalies need to learn patience and play the shot that is coming and that often means standing up, two great examples are Jonathan Bernier and Henrik Lundquist!