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:
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).
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.
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).
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 NHL.com 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 www.chdcentre.com or www.cgdgoalies.com
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