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NHL Analysis: Craig Anderson’s Poor Net Play and Post Coverage

NHL Analysis: Craig Anderson’s Poor Net Play and Post Coverage
Ottawa Senators Goaltender Craig Anderson Brian's SubZero

Craig Anderson’s inconsistency this season may be a result of two things: Poor net play habits and weak coverage of his posts down low. (Photo by Ken DeNardo)

There is no question that Craig Anderson is still a starting goaltender in the NHL, but his statistical drop off from last season to this season is enough to raise some eyebrows.

He was tremendous in 2013, despite playing in only 24 games in the lockout-shortened season. He lead the entire league with a .941 save percentage, and had a sparkling goals against average of 1.69. It may have been a bit of an anomaly, though. This year his numbers have come back down and have dropped well below his career average, and the league average.

Consistency has always been a problem for Anderson. Senators fans know very well how he can play fantastic one night, but do the exact opposite in his next game. Having super-prospect Robin Lehner breathing down his neck (and playing well) is certainly not helping settle his nerves.

Although Anderson’s save percentage sits at .909 this season, it is being greatly reduced due to his performance on the penalty kill. Almost all goalies see a reduction in save percentage while on the penalty kill, but Anderson’s drops all the way down to .833. By far the worst in the entire NHL.

His even strength save percentage is actually quite fantastic, coming in at .925. Some may look at that and assume that the Senators just have a poor penalty kill, and it is affecting their goaltender. That is not the case, as the Senators are sitting tied for 17th in the league on the penalty kill – at 81.0%. Robin Lehner is performing quite well, as his save percentage is .916 during penalty kills. The Senators are still relatively successful despite Anderson’s poor performance on penalty kills.

What could be causing this inconsistency? It comes down to two things: Poor net play habits and weak post coverage on plays down low in the crease. They are the type of plays that you would likely see from powerplay units that try to overload the front of the net. Shots from in close are much more frequent during penalty kills, and while Lehner became a master of the reverse-VH technique to quell most of those chances, Anderson has definitely not done the same.

Here is one example from the Senators 3-2 victory against the Buffalo Sabres this past Thursday.

Anderson's use of the VH position is a very risky move for this type of play.

Craig Anderson’s use of the VH position is a very risky move for this type of play.

While on a penalty kill, the puck gets passed to the goal line to Anderson’s glove side. Instead of tracking the puck hard and sliding hard into his post to cover the short side, he pulls his body weight away from the puck in order to bring his left leg up straight against the post – pulling himself into a traditional VH position.

A Senators defenceman has sprawled out to block a possible pass, so Tyler Ennis takes his only option and tries jamming it through Anderson. This is a very scary situation for a goaltender. When you are caught in the VH position during a jam attempt there is no limit to the amount of things that can go wrong.

Anderson’s left leg is loaded on the post and is ready to push out into the slot on a possible pass out front, but that pass never came. Instead, the entire left side of his body has been rendered useless. There are also holes over his shoulder, in his five hole, and along the ice where his left skate is. He has no ability to go into a full butterfly, or to bring the paddle of his stick down to take away the bottom half of the net. He weakly swipes at the puck – it is a completely helpless situation.

The Senators are very lucky that a goal was not scored on this particular penalty kill. Anderson escaped this situation, but it will keep happening unless he changes the way he tracks the puck down low. He may not be as lucky next time.

Tyler Ennis would get his revenge later in the game on another shot that Anderson could have played differently.

It was an improper leg recovery which ultimately caused Anderson to sprawl out on this goal, but it could have been avoided if his balance was not pulling away from the puck.

It was an improper leg recovery which ultimately caused Anderson to sprawl out on this goal, but it could have been avoided if his balance was leaning towards the puck, not pulling away.

Drew Stafford attempts to jam the puck through Anderson on his glove side, once again. Instead of pushing towards the puck, he is falling away from the puck and merely dangling his leg out to try and take away the bottom half of the net. He is not balanced.

His lack of balance gets exposed when Stafford is able to carry the puck behind the net, and pass it out the other side. Anderson recovers with his right leg, the improper leg, and ends up wildly flailing towards Ennis as he takes the shot into the wide open net.

If Anderson kept his balance down and towards the direction of the puck, it would have been much easier for him to push into his glove side post, lift his left leg once Stafford started the wraparound, and push over to his blocker side post when Stafford passed it out front. It still would have been a tough save to make, but he would have had much better body position on the play and could have avoided disaster.

Craig Anderson has always been a tremendous athlete, and is still only 32 years old. Some technical adjustments need to be made, but there is no reason for such a drop off in his quality of play. He is being exposed right now, especially while on the penalty kill, but it is for things that are fixable. Robin Lehner is fantastic during net play sequences, so Anderson may have to rely on his young backup as a mentor for these types of saves.

Greg BallochGreg Balloch is an on-air analyst, writer and Vancouver Canucks reporter for Sportstalk on AM 650 based out of Richmond, British Columbia. He was previously an instructor for Grainger Minard Goaltending Development in Hamilton, Ontario and now teaches for Pro4 Sports in Vancouver. For more information on Pro4’s goaltender training programs, you can visit their website here.

For more information on how to submit an NHL Analysis, please contact InGoal Magazine: [email protected]

About The Author

Greg Balloch

Greg Balloch is a Vancouver-based writer for InGoal Magazine, broadcaster for Sportsnet 650, and goaltending coach. His career began in Hamilton, Ontario with the Junior 'A' Hamilton Red Wings, before moving to Vancouver to cover the Canucks on the radio and work with the Surrey Eagles of the BCHL. A lifelong goaltender, he has been teaching the position for over a decade.

4 Comments

  1. Tyler

    First of all great article, love the save percentage on pk vs 5 on 5. I am personally an Avalanche fan and had the pleasure to see Anderson play one great year, and then one below average before getting traded. Similar to his current predicament. Anderson to me has always relied on his great athleticism over technique as he doesn’t even always recover on his backside leg, often lacks proper rotation before pushes and seems abandon technique and to scramble too early in some situations. His over reliance on athleticism, I believe is what leads to his inconsistency. Regarding the play above I definitely see what your saying, however to me looks like Anderson was not trying to recover with his wrong (right) leg in this situation he felt he didn’t have enough time to get back to the far side post so he decided to fall back to his blocker side in order to build coverage along the ice surface. In order to fall back to that side one must kick the right leg out in front of the body to avoid destroying your knee. However I believe his mistake here was his mis-judgement in timing and choosing to fall back instead of rotating leading with the eyes and letting them determine to backside push into a probable extension or to dive after making the rotation and getting a good look where the player was in relation to jamming on the far side of the net. When players wrap the puck around quickly they don’t always even tuck it in. Many times the puck ends up going straight across the goal line because they are too hurried to get their stick all the way around to tuck it in. Therefore, Anderson may have actually had more time than he anticipated. I agree Anderson misplayed the situation, but he mis read how much time he had as a rotation to his blocker side would have given him a higher probability to make this save.

  2. mike

    i guess ultimately, i have to disagree with you on both points. in the first instance, it is not a jam play, but a sharp angle shot from a close distance. this is literally what the VH was invented to defend, and he uses it to make a save. whether you want to debate the effectiveness of the VH and its strengths/weaknesses is a whole article to itself. in this case, the situation is that a pass was executed cleanly to the short side, where the shooter has time, with the possibility of a shot or another pass out front or to the other side. that isn’t a fun pickle to be in, because either you play it blocking style (like anderson did), in which case you reduce your reactivity (i don’t care if its VH, reverse VH, butterfly) and the shooter is going to try and pick their spot according to the time they have. otherwise, you play the shooter on your feet and increase your liability to the far side. pick your poison.

    in the second case, i can’t tell how the play originated, but anderson makes the original save. his mistake is believing that the shooter was going to make another shot as he drifted toward the red line. whether the shooter botched that, or not anderson thought that was going to happen, so he had to stretch the pad to cover the amount of space to the post. i don’t care how good you are, that close in off a rebound- there is no way to execute a backside push towards the post without being too slow to the potential shot. once he misread what was going to happen, recovery to the entire other side of the net was going to be pretty darn difficult. you could insert here that he also misread that a wrap around was going to occur (which is why he tried to seal the post with his stick) and that didn’t happen. but when you are already that far behind the play, your options are limited. i can’t fault his technique here, simply the fact that what he thought was going to happen didn’t and it cost him. that happens.

    and lets not forget his 2 teammates swooping in to bail him out let a pass get right through.

  3. Tyler

    Sorry wasn’t very clear in previous post. Wasn’t commenting on the first image at all, I accidentally thought author was talking about the bottom image when he mentioned VH. Secondly, you mis read when I was saying when he should backside push, I meant after he extended his pad as the player skated behind the net a rotation to the far side post would have given him info whether to dive or backside push across crease (however in this situation probably would have been a dive). In Anderson’s position on the his nearside post, literally impossible to read if player is going to wrap around or pass out to the far side because he loses visual connection with the player at the nearside post that’s why a far side rotation would have been so helpful. So in a nutshell that’s all I was saying he should’ve rotated to the far side post instead of falling backwards.

    • mike

      i actually wasn’t commenting on your post, but the author’s article.