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‘Deeper’ Luongo making significant adjustments under Melanson

Roberto Luongo made it clear long before he stepped on the ice for his first preseason action Wednesday night that he wasn’t worried about the result. For Luongo it was all about the process. And while that’s not unusual for any veteran goalie easing back into game action after a long summer, in Luongo’s case this year is different. That’s because the Canucks’ star isn’t just trying to find his game, he’s actually making significant alterations to it.

Roberto Luongo

If Roland Melanson has his way, you may not see Luongo in this position too often this year - with both feet outside the crease. photo: Scott Slingsby

Luongo confirmed Thursday he has been asked by Vancouver’s new goaltending coach, Roland Melanson, to play deeper in his crease. For a goalie that always felt on top of his game when he was on top of his crease, trusting his reads and getting out to challenge opposing shooters, it’s a big change.

“It is a big deal. It’s a huge change,” Luongo said after stopping 23 of 25 in two periods of a 3-2 loss to Edmonton. “It’s all fine and dandy in practice, but you don’t know how it works out during a game. Obviously it’s going to be a process to get used to some of those things, but I’m willing to learn and willing to give it a shot and hopefully it will improve my game.”

To be clear, Melanson is not asking Luongo to channel his inner Henrik Lundqvist and follow Benoit Allaire’s inside-out mantra all the way back to the extremes of his goal line. But the long-time Canadiens coach is asking the Canucks veteran to keep some blue ice in front of his skates. For a guy who often felt like he was at his sharpest when there was white ice behind his heels, it’s not an overnight adjustment.

The pay off – and it was on display a couple of times during the first preseason game – should be shorter post-save recoveries for Luongo, who won’t have to move as far to regain his next save position. In fact it should shorten most lateral movements, which is important since Luongo is not the purest skating goalie.

“For me to do it, the changes have to make sense to me, and they do,” Luongo said earlier Thursday. “There’s a fine line I’m going to have to find where it’s just right. I won’t be as aggressive on a shooter but I will be in better position for rebounds and backdoors. There will be give and take there for me to find the right spot where I will be in position for a shot and in position for those other things.”

Coming soon

Look for more on building a goalie-coach relationship from Melanson and Luongo — and how a smaller knob may make the latter a better puck handler in the near future.

Luongo stressed the changes are meant more for end zone play, and that he would remain more aggressive – depending on the situation, obviously – against the rush chances Vancouver has given up so much more often under General Manager Mike Gillis’s more entertaining style philosophy the last two seasons.

“You want to play the shooter aggressively off the rush, but once the play comes into the zone it’s a lot of T-pushes and making sure you are set once the shot it taken,” said Luongo. “You always want to be T-pushing across your crease and playing a bit deeper and being a bit more square to the shot. I felt comfortable doing that and didn’t really get beat off a shot because of that, so just keep working and the more you do, the more comfort level you will have.”

One of the biggest challenges, he said, will be how they handle traffic.

“That’s the one area that I’m really going to have to work hard on in practice to get used to,” Luongo said. “Because in the past I always tried to be on top of the guy, almost engaging him. Like last playoffs, trying to establish position out there first. That’s going to be the biggest difference.”

Improving foot speed with the shorter movements is also something Luongo has worked on daily with the Canucks new full-time coach, who was brought in after Luongo’s long-time goalie coach and friend Ian Clark was fired this summer, a move that the goalie admitted both “surprised and disappointed” him. But that hasn’t stopped Luongo, who twice hired Clark to work with him privately this summer, from so-far committing himself to the changes suggested by Melanson.

“It’s not as long of a T-push as it used to be, but smaller T-pushes inside the crease and the length of it is smaller,” Luongo said of the attempts to quicken his feet. “The quicker you are, you’ll be set faster and in better position to make the save. That comes with repetition, a lot of reps in practice and working on it with Roli everyday so far. And it’s already better since the first day.”

Luongo and Melanson are also working on staying atop his knees and upright – and not sprawling across the ice as often – when the play gets scrambled.

“It’s just that control. You always want to be in control,” Luongo said of post-save recoveries. “It’s more knee shuffles than anything else. Sometimes a quick knee shuffle will get you there, and you’re not as far off as you think.”

That’s especially true when you’re deeper in your net and don’t have as far to travel to get back to your post, or recover your angle and establish the next save position. Luongo proved that with a great save when Oilers’ forward Shawn Horcoff appeared to have an open net, even if the method employed to get across for that save wasn’t at all “under control” or upright on the knees.

“I don’t know if that’s exactly the textbook play there, but if I would have been out above the crease it would have been hard for me to get back on that one,” Luongo said. “You are always going to be in a better position.”

It sounds good now, but Luongo admits the hard part will be still believing it if he starts to get beat cleanly by shooters as he retreats to his net. The ironic part, he said, is that his first instinct when he struggled used to be shrinking back to the goal line, something he was told was wrong and had to work hard to stop doing. So being asked to back up now, even just a bit, isn’t easy.

“Every time you let in a goal you question yourself, but that’s part of the game,” he said. “It’s not going to happen overnight. Obviously you play the game a certain way for many years and to make a change like that is going to take time. I’ve always had that mindset a little bit except that I’ve always played a different way. So as long as things go well, I don’t have a problem with it.”

The interesting part will be seeing how Luongo, who already talked a few times about not wanting to get beat by shots, reacts if things don’t go well. And given his traditional October struggles, it’s a distinct possibility. But Luongo sounded committed to seeing the changes through.

“You have to be open to it,” he stressed. “If not, there’s no point in even trying at all.”

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. Ken

    This is a very interesting concept. I was lucky enough to meet with Flyers goaltending coach Jeff Reese. We sat down and looked at video while discussing things about Leighton. Reese had Leighton do the same exact thing. These bigger goalies, it seems, can afford being a little deeper in the net. We often see bigger goalies be out of control while moving from side to side. This helps them stay under control with post save recoveries/movements, and keeps them from flopping around a bit. It also helps with pre save movements as well, and keeps them more economical during the game. The only caution is that if something beats them it must beat them to the outside of the body. NOTHING is allowed through the body.

  2. paul szabo

    While I don’t dispute the sense in this approach, I think it must be underlined over and over that it works for a goalie who has the prerequisite size. There aren’t many guys in the NHL under 6 feet nowadays. My perspective comes from coaching minor league goalies who are almost all around 5 feet to 5’8″ tall. So often I see them getting caught in the small goalie’s no-man’s land i.e. halfway between the goal line and the top of the blue ice- when shots are coming from the dot or the tops of the circles. Combine that with a often too-early b-fly position and it means the upper 2 feet of the net is a yawning cage. For them that extra 12 inches forward is critical. I want them to be on top of the blue ice at all times, until there are players that position themselves below the hash marks or down low near the posts i.e. lower then the goalie. So many young goalies have adopted the Melanson or Allaire deep butterfly blocking style too soon. They don’t use their stick enough to control or deflect pucks, they don’t skate enough, they don’t stay on their feet long enough. Like in basketball, before guys grow to 6 foot 7 and can dunk at will, they have to learn a different type of game that takes into account smaller size.

  3. Kaner

    Two more suggestions for Luongo: (i) don’t act like you’ve been shot every time someone skates within a foot of you, and (ii) hold onto the puck after the first save occasionally.

    But for Luongo’s theatrics and propensity to give up huge rebounds, the Canucks may’ve actually reached Game 7 of the Western Conference Semifinals the past two years. Not that they would’ve won (Luongo’s incapable of advancing beyond the secound round), but it would’ve looked better.

  4. Kris

    If Luongo can figure out his positioning (and we all can say it was pretty off for the most of last season) and how to stay off his butt on breakaways, he could be the op goalie in the league year after year. Hes big, quick, and smart, he just needs to put it all together.

    I still for the life of me cant figure out why he always falls backwards….why does he not get if he moved laterally on his knees, that top shelf for shooters would be non existent, and his recoveries if there was a rebound would be exponentially easier!

  5. Jason Power

    Personally, I think he needs to take a step back and go to whatever workouts he was doing with Val d’Or. He needs to remember that he did something in JRs that made him the hottest prospect and highest draft pick ever (at the time, until Islanders bet on red with the ball landed on black). He used to be extremely patient, very wide stance, and very quick on his feet.

    Last couple of seasons, to me at least, it looks like he is trying to analyze all the rebound plays before the shot instead of just focusing on the puck. Not that this is bad, but the human brain isn’t that fast of a computer and it forces him to make jerk reactions because he spent too much time thinking. With Acadie, he was solid on shots to the point the logos on his jerseys were black. Lately, he looks as if he forgot to center shift into the shots. I see a lot of reaching to catch pucks lately, especially low ones.

    Sadly, the last two post seasons against the Blackhawks, they picked him apart. Going into the series…they knew two things. 1, get in his head and 2, spread him out. Watch the game tapes, they never came down between the dots and shot…all shots were to be taken outside on the lanes with 2 guys driving backside for rebounds. Granted, it didn’t help that he was short a entire Defensive bench so both D on the ice would watch the shooter instead of picking up weak side guys.

    If I were Allain and the rest of the Nucks coaching staff, I would tell my D to position wide from the net. LET Louie see the direct shots. FORCE the other team to come off the wall with the rock and fire down the middle.

    Vancouver has the best goalie in the league, and arguable one of the best Offenses (behind the Caps of course). I just don’t feel as though systematically they are playing O/D/and G all on the same playbook, all to their strengths together.


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