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InGoal Update: Depth lessons from Boucher, Bryzgalov, Luongo

InGoal Update: Depth lessons from Boucher, Bryzgalov, Luongo

Plus: The good, the bad and the ugly of VH as 1-pad down remains in the playoff spotlight; Ducks send Jonas Hiller home with recurring vertigo symptoms; and more in the daily playoff update

Philadelphia Flyers goalie Brian Boucher

Philadelphia goalie Brian Boucher spent most of the season stopping practice pucks, but made the transition to playoff hockey smoothly overall (InGoal File Photo)

When Brian Boucher took over in the Flyers net after Russian rookie Sergei Bobrovsky got caught deep and gave up a third goal on just seven shots in 12 minutes of Game 2 over the weekend, it was no big deal.

Asked about overcoming the adversity of coming into a series cold and pulling out two hard-fought wins against the Sabres, Boucher pointed out during his post-game conference that it was nothing new for him:

”It’s year eleven… my whole career has been adversity,” he told reporters. 

Adding to the challenge of his first start in Game 3 was the distinct possibility any miscues could result in new backup Michael Leighton – Bobrovsky went from starter to press box as a healthy scratch – jumping into the driver’s seat on the Flyers’ first-round goalie-go-round. So what did Boucher do with so many calling for him to come up “big,” a common refrain for coaches who often tell their goalies to ”play big,” even if the meaning is not always clear?

Boucher played small and got caught on his goal line for the first Sabres’ goal by Drew Stafford:

Contrast that clip with the video below of Coyote’s No.1 Ilya Bryzgalov, who comes off the post and a paddle down block, gets back to his feet and charges into the scrum, asserting his position and making a save on a shot by Red Wings’ defenseman Brian Rafalski:

Ilya Bryzgalov has struggled to fight through traffic in the playoffs (Photo courtesy of Clydeorama, please check bottom of post for his Flickr link)

On the above save at least we can see how playing big is not just a question of how big your body is, it’s also where you decide to place it. Unfortunately for Bryzgalov and the Coyotes, the enigmatic Russian has spent too much time further back in his crease, rarely fighting hard enough to find the puck while giving up 12 goals in three games. And sometimes it’s not where you are, but how hard you are working to find the puck on the other side of screens, especially with teams doing everything they can to create even more traffic havoc than usual in the playoffs.

Coyotes captain Shane Doan said his team needed do a better job clearing the crease, but that was before the Game 3 loss, and is always easier said than done when you are dealing with Detroit’s Tomas Holmstrom.

“Bryz is our best player, hands down,” Doan told reporters. “He has the ability to win games by himself. We need to give him the opportunity to do that by getting people out of his face as much as we can.”

As we see from the first goal Monday night (below), that’s not happening:

He got caught sliding outside his coverage chasing a puck going wide on another long shot less than a minute later, and the Coyotes never recovered from the early 2-0 deficit, and Bryzgalov’s stunned, slumped-shoulder start:

“Just alright,” head coach Dave Tippett told reporters in Phoenix when asked to describe Bryzgalov’s performance after Game 3. “I think Bryz got us to this point, so we’re going to try to rely on him to get us out of this.”

That hasn’t happened so far, which has The Globe and Mail newspaper in Canada wondering if Bryzgalov is costing himself money as an impending unrestricted free agent this summer.

The irony amid all the talk about Bryzgalov not getting off his goal line aggressively enough, is Canucks’ star Roberto Luongo is having his best season after coming back into the blue ice, shortening up his shot-preparation patterns around the crease, and his recoveries after making a save. In fact, Luongo said after a Game 3 win in Chicago he couldn’t have made this save off Patrick Kane last year (though it must be pointed out they were killing a 5-on-3, so he probably would have been playing deeper anyways):

With the exception of a couple of goals in Game 2, Luongo has also managed the traffic well against the Blackhawks, which probably has something to do with the departure of Dustin Byfuglien since last season, and the people-moving improvements in his own defense. But it also proves being deeper doesn’t mean you can’t fight through screens.

Old-man Roloson demonstrates the perfect VH

For a guy who broke into the NHL when pad stacks, open toe kicks and full body saves were the norm (in fact he made two splendid saves using the latter Monday), 41-year-old Tampa starter Dwayne Roloson showed he is no dinosaur when it comes to technique, correctly using the VH on this tight, poor angle attempt by Tyler Kennedy.

Note in the highlight below that the Lightning goalie takes the position only when the opposing player is very close to the net (not along the corner boards) and is prevented from cutting in front by a defender. Note also that Roloson does not end up getting locked on the goalpost.

Instead, he is able to push off and follow the rebound parallel to the goal line, remaining square to the puck at all times. In short, it’s a textbook example of how and when to use a save technique that has taken a lot of heat these playoffs (too bad that both announcers are too busy chatting about something completely unrelated when the save happens)

Tim Thomas and Carey Price: more VH samples (we think)

Tim Thomas regularly solicits both love and hate opinions for his rather unorthodox style and tendency to improvise under pressure. Even though his Bruins won Monday night to climb back into the series, he has been doubted for precsiely that aspect of his play in all three games; that is, being unpredictable and making play in his zone a Cracker-Jack box of surprises.

Last night he was a standout in the third period when the Canadiens threw everything at him in the hopes of tying the game. Before that though, he allowed two rather similar, bad angle goals that squeaked through his legs.  

The second of these, on a spinorama shot from the corner boards by Tomas Plekanec, may be yet another example of the dangers of 1-pad down. A close look at the replay below shows Thomas beginning to drop his right knee before hesitating slightly, leaving a monstrous and unnecessary hole between his legs for the puck to go in.

Of course knowing Thomas and his wide array of half-butterfly type stops, it may not even be an example of the VH, something we’ve rarely seen him engage in on angle attacks. Then again, given the way he struggled on both sharp-angle plays in this game, he might want to consider it. Properly executed it probably would have kept this goal out:

To his credit, Thomas shook off both goals with a stellar third period to keep the Bruins ahead.

“He made a lot of big saves, and the fact he was able to do that showed a lot of character,” coach Claude Julien told reporters. “He’d want to have back the two goals that went in on him, but the goaltender could have had negative thoughts in his mind and not been sharp at the end. For him to do what he did meant he was willing to redeem himself and make the big saves. They were huge. Instead of a tie game, we were able to score an empty-netter.”

Price, meanwhile, was victimized in a manner similar to Bryzgalov when he overslid his crease in pursuit of a shot going wide, leaving him out of position for a sharp-angle bank shot by Nathan Horton. And his puck-handling gaffe led to the winning goal in Game 3, but he at least provided a good example of VH gone good in Game 2. Watch how fluidly Price pushes off the post and into the middle of the ice, not getting locked up like so many others:

Ducks send ailing Hiller home as head problems persist

Anaheim Ducks Goalie Jonas Hiller

Anaheim Ducks Goalie Jonas Hiller is trying to come back from vertigo symptoms (Scott Slingsby Photo)

Anaheim sent would-be No.1 goaltender Jonas Hiller home from Nashville on Tuesday for treatment of lingering vertigo symptoms. Hiller was considered a Hart and Vezina Trophy candidate with a .924 save percentage at the All-Star break, but took two pucks off the mask there and hasn’t played much since, giving up three goals on 10 shots his first game back. He has only played two games since, and didn’t last long in the second one.

With Hiller gone, prospect Igor Bobkov will serve as the team’s third goaltender behind Dan Ellis and Ray Emery, who returned from a lower body injury of his own after Game 1 to start the last two. The good news is Emery, whose amazing comeback from career-threatening hip surgery, has been well documented, is enjoying the playoffs.

“I felt pretty good,” Emery told the Orange County Register after Game 2. “It’s a fun time and I think for a goalie … for me it’s a time where you can make up for a lot of things with work. Guys don’t have that extra second to use their skill on you. It’s a lot of bang and crash and traffic. Just battling goes a long way.”

~ Special thanks to Clydeorama for the Bryzgalov photo, please check out his Flickr photostream for more great hockey images.

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