Before the Shot: Crawford’s Early Positioning Pays Off
What happens before the shot is just as, if not more important, than what happens once the puck is released. We often analyze a save as the end result, but what about the series of events leading up to it? This new Before the Shot series will focus on what happens before the puck reaches the goalie. Details matter, regardless of how basic or advanced, to broaden our understanding the ‘why’ in goaltending.
During this year’s NHL playoffs, I made a note about how effective Chicago Blackhawks goaltender Corey Crawford is with his positioning.
The video above is a good example from Game 2 of the Stanley Cup finals against the Tampa Bay Lightning. In the end, I’m confident that you’ll see that it was a relatively easy save on a low-percentage scoring chance. But there are a few things to consider that help keep a low-percentage scoring chance from getting worse.
This play started out behind the goal line on the opposite side of the ice.
Marian Hossa was being pressured by Nikita Kucherov, forcing Hossa to backhand the puck around the boards. The puck skips behind Duncan Keith and is picked up by Ondrej Palat. The puck is currently at the hash marks along the boards with two Blackhawk players converging on Palat.
Let’s look at Crawford’s positioning (from the photo above).
The puck is in a non-danger zone on the ice. Generally speaking, this is anywhere between the hash marks and the goal line along the boards. The heel of his left leg is very close to the post and his right leg is turned around so that his body is facing Palat. Crawford’s positioning covers the entire area from the hash marks to the goal line, which I’ve highlighted.
Using the posts as a starting point is a great strategy to make sure your movements are in line with the angle you want to cover. As you can see, Crawford can move to and cover multiple angles on the ice from his post when the puck is in this area. You’ll see him adjust his positioning slightly a few more times in this sequence, but he always keeps his left foot close to the post.
This second screen capture (above) is where we can really see the benefit of this more conservative positioning.
Notice how his right leg has now rotated back towards the goal line? The reason is because Kucherov has now emerged as a potential threat. Also, Kucherov is on his forehand. This is an important detail to note because you must be aware of this option for a net drive or possibly stepping out and taking a bad angle shot.
Now, take a look at his left foot. We often see Crawford overlap his foot on the post, but his heel is still just ahead of the post (it might even be touching). This is important because Crawford still hasn’t fully committed to a complete overlap of the post.
By rotating his right leg early and placing it closer to the goal line and keeping his right foot closer to the post, Crawford is putting himself in a position to quickly transition early and pre-set into a post-play save selection (either VH or RVH), which covers either the net drive or a bad angle shot.
Just before committing fully to the shot, Crawford makes one more adjustment with his right foot, rotating it forward, and returning him to the positioning he had in the first frame on a direct angle with the puck.
Again, Johnson is in the highlighted area from the first picture in this sequence (Johnson is at the face-off dot). As a result, Crawford returns his positioning to be set for the puck on this angle. This is a great example of how effective positioning can be established by simplifying movements in the crease.
Once it’s clear that Johnson is the primary threat, Crawford gains some depth, closing off most of the net.
Johnson actually does a good job settling down a bobbling puck that first landed on his backhand. As a result, he has to pull the puck a wider on his forehand to load up his shot, which is just enough for Crawford to have to make one small shuffle to his left.
Crawford stayed patient for that extra split-second before adjusting and, as you can see, is right there with Johnson every step of the way.
Early positioning and patience pay off
In the majority of situations like these, where goalies have strong positioning on a bad angle shot, they must become aware that one of the only ways they will get beat is if a puck goes through them (e.g. five hole or under their arms).
It’s Goaltending 101: Good positioning, being on your angle, and having good depth reduces the amount of net the shooter can see and the puck has room to find.
Crawford’s early and patient positioning on his post when the puck is between the hash marks and goal line is the key starting point to this entire sequence.
~ Eli Rassi is currently the goaltending coach with the Carleton Place Jr. “A” Canadians in the Central Canada Hockey League. He is also an instructor and consultant with Complete Goaltending Development (CGD). CGD offers on-ice group, semi-private and private training programs, and consulting services for minor hockey associations, for goaltenders at all levels in Ottawa at its training facility in the city’s West end, the Complete Hockey Development Centre. For more information, please visit www.chdcentre.com or www.cgdgoalies.com