InGoal Update: Bryzgalov admits to being ‘goat’ in Phoenix
Plus: VH once again in spotlight after soft goals by Coyotes stopper and double-OT winner in Tampa Bay; Henrik Lundqvist’s heartbreak; Sharks go back to Antti Niemi, Roberto Luongo caught deep; and more it the April 21 update
Ilya Bryzgalov may not have been a great goaltender these playoffs, but the enigmatic Russian continued to be a great quote as they ended, admitting in noteworthy fashion how two failures to cover the post cost the Coyotes the final game of a first round sweep at the hands of the Detroit Red Wings on Wednesday night.
To be clear, Bryzgalov’s brilliance was the reason the Coyotes were in the playoffs in the first place the last two seasons, especially last year, when he was a Vezina Trophy finalist. But his surprisingly indifferent play was the biggest reason a franchise that depends on him to be their best player has played it’s last game of the season – and perhaps ever in Phoenix given all the scuttlebutt surrounding an impending move to Winnipeg.
“Goalies have 2 ways to be. To be a hero, to be a goat. I am goat,” Bryzgalov said.
Bryzgalov was already poised to wear the goat horn long before Game 4, but his two late gaffes in a 3-3 tied ensured they would be tied to his head. The first came on Dan Cleary’s seemingly harmless shot from out of the corner, which caught Bryzgalov leaning off his post and deflected in off the side of his blocker:
“A mistake that killed the team,” Bryzgalov said afterward,before breaking the play down to the Arizona Republic. “I check what’s going on in front, know what’s going on and when I get my head back to Cleary, he has the puck and I already feel like puck hit me in the leg and I start finding where is it.”
There was instantly chatter about whether Bryzgalov should have had a pad up against that post in the VH, or one-pad down technique, which would have protected the short side. Ironically, though, the VH technique failed Bryzgalov at the other side of the net less than two minutes later, as Todd Bertuzzi’s wraparound squirted through his short-side coverage, bounced in off a leg in front, and into the unguarded net on the far side:
Interestingly, the above clip shows Bryzgalov drop into the butterfly and a paddle-down approach when he thought there might be a wraparound on his blocker side, then use VH on the stick side, a tactic that has become more common in the NHL. But with all the talk surrounding this save selection it’s interesting to note VH was not developed to defend wraparounds – or even those long sharp-angle shots – but rather to combat all the walkout plays that were being used along the goal line coming out of the lockout in 2005, especially on power plays.
It’s certainly not the first time a VH discussion has ensued in the first round of the playoffs. In fact, sharp angle goals and post play have been a focus throughout, including updates here at InGoal focussing on Michael Nuevirth getting caught by one, and Carey Price and Tim Thomas using it with widely varied degrees of success in their series.
The problem with VH is how it locks goalies in and is tough to react (and find pucks) out of that position, which costs Bryzgalov on the second goal and may explain why he doesn’t want to use it too soon on the first one.
To which we refer to an earlier Ask a Pro segment with Montreal backup Alex Auld that included an insightful conversation about the evolution of VH and the need for a partial, or preparatory, VH position that readies a goalie for it without fully committing to it:
“It’s a great play but it needs to be a hybrid of it,” Auld said. “Originally you could do it and surprise guys and they would just shoot. Now it’s expected, so you can’t do it as early. Originally you’d almost do it totally flat with your foot ready to push at 90 degrees, perpendicular to the goal line to work that push-across play. Now you get close to it and have an altered stance where you are not fully knee knee down but on the post and ready to drop into it as a save. It is hard to react out of it, it’s hard to push out of it, so you have to kind of be in-between on it where you can come into it and trust that position as a good blocking position but you don’t commit too early and get stuck.”
Should Roloson have used VH on double-OT winner?
As Auld would go on to explain in the interview, there is a reason the VH was developed in the first place. While it’s hard to argue it is being overused and poorly applied even at the NHL level these days, sharp angle shots on the short side – like the one by Cleary on Bryzgalov – and walkouts used to give goaltenders fits.
“That was a really tough play for goalies, you would see them in between and it was a great scoring chance and I think we’ve kind of found a way to neutralize that a bit,” Auld said.
Which brings us to another tough one from a sharp angle Wednesday night. It was even tougher because it came in double overtime and made a loser out of Tampa Bay’s Dwayne Roloson, who had made 50 saves to that point, bouncing back from a couple of soft early goals to shut down Pittsburgh with several exceptional stops:
“I saw it at the last second,” Roloson said. “Good play by him to get it off quick.”
Roloson seemed to simply whiff on the long shot off the boards with his glove, and while that might not be a typical application of VH technique, one former NHL goalie coach asked whether it would have prevented the goal:
“Funny how no one talks about the disadvantage of the butterfly style on Roloson’s weak angle from the corner,” Ex-Calgary Flames goaltending coach David Marcoux wrote on Twitter before adding the hashtag: “#vhswouldwork.”
Lundqvist loss just as heartbreaking, even if it’s not his fault
Meanwhile in New York, the Rangers star goalie Henrik Lundqvist suffered an equally miserable ending in double overtime. And after making 49 saves, including a great breakaway stop on Alex Ovechkin in the first extra frame, it’s hard to imagine Lundqvist takes any consolation in it not being his fault after teammate Marian Gaborik knocked loose a puck he was attempting to cover just outside his crease, especially after blowing a 3-0 third period lead:
Luongo’s depth change exploited by Hawks off rush
After a couple of brilliant saves in Game 3 against his old nemesis Chicago, Roberto Luongo talked about his new, deeper positioning making it possible. But as InGoal forecast before the series started, if the Canucks allowed the Blackhawk’s skilled players time and space in the middle of the ice, they would exploit that depth by picking the larger corners it made available. Chicago even worked on cutting into the middle from the blueline and snapping in practice early in the series, and when they were able to do it in Game 4, the results were predictable:
Luongo gave up six before being yanked in a 7-2 loss, igniting a lot of talk about past playoff failings. And while the goalie himself wasn’t there to answer for those failings after skipping practice on Wednesday – despite getting up gingerly after an awkward first period save the Canucks insists he’ll start Game 5 Thursday – his teammates made it clear the loss couldn’t be hung entirely on their goaltender.
“He is a warrior,” forward Alex Burrows said. “He will bounce back and have a solid game. Those were good shots, good clean looks they had. We have to make sure we play better in front of him.”
Antti Niemi back in for San Jose after getting yanked
Lost a bit in the Sharks remarkable comeback from a 4-0 deficit to post a 6-5 overtime win in Game 3 against Los Angeles was the fact No.1 goaltender Antti Niemi watched it from the bench after getting yanked following the fourth goal. Niemi’s cool, calm attitude was a big factor in winning a Stanley Cup in Chicago last season, and his play down the stretch this season was as good as any goalie in the NHL, but the Finn has looked very flappable in this series.
Still, the Sharks appeared to be going back to Niemi for Game 4 despite four goals on 10 shots the last time.
“When you look at Nemo’s record when we pulled him, which wasn’t very often, he responded very well,” coach Todd McLellan said. “If we go that route, which I think we’re leaning towards, we expect him to be very good.”
And if they don’t, they expect Antero Niittymaki, who had only played twice since suffering a lower body injury in mid-January, to be ready to go back in
“Niitty has been very patient,” McLellan said. “He’s worked extremely hard. He lost a lot of playing time because of a pair of injuries later in the year. At that point Nemo took over, so we weren’t prepared to make many changes down the stretch. But I remember sitting with him one day and saying in playoffs we’re likely going to need two (goalies) at some point. I give him a ton of credit for coming in and playing the way he did.”
~ Special thanks to Clydeorama for the Bryzgalov photo, please check out his Flickr photostream for more great hockey images.