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NHL Analysis: Kari Lehtonen Burned Using VH

NHL Analysis: Kari Lehtonen Burned Using VH

For quite some time, goaltending coaches and analysts have carefully been observing situations at all levels for proper use and misuse of Vertical Horizontal and Reverse Vertical Horizontal positions. There is a fine line between proper use and poor execution, and straight up poor decision making.

This NHL Analysis will break down a scenario from the Jan. 2 game between the Dallas Stars and Montreal Canadiens where Stars goaltender Kari Lehtonen was caught attempting the VH position in a situation where he may have benefited by being a little more aggressive, and certainly more square, to the shooter:

Lehtonen VH Goal GIF

The Stars and Canadiens were tied 4-4 with 9:22 left in the third period. Canadiens forward Lars Eller broke out of his own zone and carried the puck all the way to the bottom of the right wing face off circle. When Eller enters the offensive zone, it is a 1-on-3 situation, with the Stars players all back checking towards the net.

Eller pulls up and stops at the bottom of the face off circle, waiting for more offensive support. As you can see in the picture below, the Stars players all collapse low, protecting the front of their net. Stars defenceman Alex Goligoski (#33) is playing Eller directly and headed for the ice to take away the pass. The other two players are also doing their part in the defensize zone; Alex Gaunce (middle, #36) is also taking away the pass option at the front of the net and Jamie Benn (#14) is taking away the far side threat (Canadiens forward Travis Moen #32).

Lehtonen VH ScreenCap 1

Take note of Lehtonen’s position here. It appears as though he is anticipating the pass to go through the defensive zone coverage and make its way to Moen’s stick on the far side. In which case, Lehtonen’s far side pad is positioned to take a direct line to the back post, taking away the lower part of the ice.

But, that’s not what happens.

Lehtonen VH Screencap 2

Rather, Eller outwaits the sliding Goligoski, takes a few steps and fires a shot over Lehtonen’s shoulder. As you can see in this photo, Lehtonen drops into the VH a little early and exposes the top part of the net. And even more noticeable, you can see that Lehtonen isn’t square to the shot (the centre of his body is actually facing closer to the face off dot).

Lehtonen VH Goal GIF

Is this a case of VH misuse? Perhaps. Lehtonen is 6’4, so I am curious to see how much room would be made available to Eller if Lehtonen was square and in a more anchored VH position.

Or, is this a case where Lehtonen would have been better off being more aggressive on Eller, squaring up completely (as discussed in InGoal’s article about the over lap technique)?

It is important for goaltenders to play the percentages and react accordingly. Don’t get me wrong, there are situations during the course of a game where VH would be appropriate from this angle depending on a variety of factors. It’s a strong option if the goalie has the size to cover the top corner(s) of the net, too.

But, anticipating and pre-emptively being positioned to play the pass in this particular situation opened up more than enough room for Eller to find room and score the game winning goal. It’s also important for a goaltender to trust that his/her teammates will do their job. In this case, both Gaunce and Benn are in good positions to defend against the pass and cover the far side threat.

Considering the coverage in front of his net, it appears as though squaring up completely would be the best option. There are three players covering the front of the net and Benn has good positioning and stick presence on Moen. Also take into account the time of the game and the score, this is one of those situations where decision making is put under the microscope just that much more.

The entire sequence can be seen again in this highlight:

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 or

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

About The Author

Elias Rassi

~ 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 or


  1. Tomas Hertz, MD, BA

    Classic example of a very tall goaltender leaning off the post with the V-pad exposing the seam along the post and, despite physical stature, exposing the roof of the net. OL would have been excellent since I doubt (although you never know) a successful pass would have been made to the wide side.

  2. Dave Wells

    Classic example of a goalie ignoring goaltending 101 principles: be on angle, be square, take appropriator depth.

    Typical mistake using the VH/PLU… “Gee, I’m tall enough that nobody can roof daddy me so I’ll just go down into this comfortable save selection, ignore being square, ignore taking depth, not trust my d-men to take the pass, bail on the shot and then wonder why I’m on the bench next game”…

    It’s exactly why NO goalies should be taught this technique until they demonstrate they possess the Goalie IQ to understand when and when not to use this save technique.

    Coach’s talk all the time, about players who have an above average “game IQ”… Goaltenders are in the same boat. 95% of them over use and miss-use this save technique which is why it should only be taught to the 5% who are actually smart enough to know when to apply it. The other 95% should just come off the post, square up and trust their d-men to take away the back door pass.

    Goaltending 101. A skill set lost on all too many goalies, even those paid million of dollars to do what they do. It’s sad really.

  3. James

    These analyses are awesome! But I can’t make the videos full screen. They are way too small, like big thumbnails.

  4. Dan Anderson

    The reality is, fewer and fewer high level goalies are using the VH. Having said that, more and more forwards are staying patient on poor angle shots, waiting for the goalie to go down, and then roofing it.

  5. Steve McKichan

    I have an idea……

    Play it squarely on your feet, with toes at top of crease.

    Still easy to launch to middle for backdoor pass, with this conservative challenge and tighter stance width wise.

    Here we go in CAPS…


    Someone please show me goals against when a goalie uses this save selection when a player is within a stick length and proper fully closed form is used…..

    It really is overused and in too may case used in wrong situations.

  6. Dsm

    Personally I just think Lehtonen was convinced from jump Eller was passing. Still a lazy move to cheat on the shot, but not sure an failed VH was the issue here.

    • Steve McKichan

      He used a VH on a man clearly outside a stick length away so yes it was an error and without question a failed VH.

      By definition, I think getting scored on while in a VH is a fail.

      • Dave

        I’ve never heard this concept of using VH only within a stick leanght. A stick length seems to be way to close. Are you talking a wrap around or deflection scenario? I can’t see going down in the VH when a player is that close, unless it’s a wrap around. If a player attempting a deflection is that close, I’m coming out and cutting off his ability to deflect. If a player just happens to skate straight at me, I’m using a poke check or meeting him to cut off time and space (break away). My point is. If you wait until “a stick length” to go down in the VH, it would seemt o me, that you are opening up under you down leg to score an easy goal under your pad. Please expound on this concept. It may help me do something better.


  7. Eli Rassi

    Thanks for your comments, all. It looks like we’re all on the same page: the best play in this given situation is to square up and take the shot.

    There is a time and a place for everything. In this case, making the best use of depth, size, and trusting defensive zone coverage by squaring up and being more aggressive would’ve likely been more beneficial.

  8. Mike O'Brien

    I’m not a big fan of VH unless the puck is in tight either. However while I don’t think this was necessarily the best save selection in this situation, it is probably Lehtonen’s cheating to his blocker side for the backdoor pass that is the major culprit here. If he had stayed more vertical and attached to the post, he probably makes the save.

    • Eli Rassi

      Hey Mike,

      Thanks for your comment. I agree with you; part of the problem with this play is that Lehtonen isn’t square to the puck when it’s on Eller’s stick. I mentioned this in the article as well, but I’m curious to see how this would have played out if he was square and decided to use VH.

      But, considering there was no real far side threat, my thought is why take the chance on a save selection that, from that angle, exposes unnecessary holes? I can understand if Lehtonen (or any goalie) wants to sit back a bit and use VH if the far side option was wide open (he can react to the shot or slide across if the pass is made).

      In this situation though, he only has to worry about the shot and not the pass. If the pass goes through in this situation and Moen scores, Dallas’ coaching staff would have three players to be upset at, but not Lehtonen at all.

  9. dan

    probably more a result of spending so many years behind that porous atl defence

    • Jesper Andersson

      I totally agree with Dan. Lehtonen is a very good and talanted goalie. He makes a mistake here but it comes from lots of experience in not having adequate defensive support. His cheating on the back door pass is a direct result of Stars many years of poor defence.

  10. jimmy spratt

    The reason I do not like the VH save selection on this particular play is because of where the shot is taken from. As Steve said, never use this save selection when the puck is more than a stick lengths away. I use the dot line as a reference (depends on a goalies stature)

    Eller takes this shot on the board side of the dot, giving him more space to elevate the shot. On this play I would have liked to see Lehtonen stay on his post, and then swivel (c cut) his right leg once the puck came above the bottom of the circle.

    When squaring up that right leg, its just a tiny c cut. This will square Lehtonen up better for the shot as well as keeping him in a good spot to push across if Eller passes.

    Its amazing how much easier it is to critique than execute.

  11. Tony

    Am I wrong or did he ‘duck’? I agree with being square but it looks to me like either he anticipated a pass out front (since no one else picked up the forward charging the slot) and began to move or shied away from the head shot.

    • Steve


      My thoughts exactly.

  12. paul szabo

    For sure this is a textbook example of how the VH is used in error. But no one seems to have given a bit of credit to Eller for what I think is one amazing shot. I think if there were a Go-Pro camera placed on his helmet, one would barely see a space for that puck to go in…