Saturday, November 6, 2010

A Goalie Knows What a Goalie Shows...

First in a three-part series

"I told [goaltending coach Arturs Irbe] after the second period that Michal looks a little tired [Wednesday] and even though they only had one goal, I was a little worried about it."
-Bruce Boudreau, 11/03/2010

It makes sense that Michal Neuvirth would be feeling gassed given his yeoman's work thus far, but since he gets another start again tonight at home vs the Flyers [Ed. note: looks like it might be Holtby after all], we should wonder what exactly BB saw over the last two games (he mentioned fatigue again after Friday's circus act W over the Bruins). I'm guessing that people who pay particular attention to goaltending each have different ways to tell when a particular goalie is overworked. For me, I look for three signs: 1) going down too early (and staying down too long), 2) not working hard enough to see the puck through traffic, and 3) noticing when pucks seem to be finding their way through rather than around a goalie. And Neuvirth has been victimized by all three in the last two games. So let's take a look at problem #1, going down early and staying down too long.

It used to be, back before Francois Allaire and Patrick Roy combined to turn entire generations of goaltenders on to the butterfly, that the first hint of goalie fatigue was when they dropped to their knees (early and/or often) to make saves. I think the term most often associated with it was "flopping." It was a bad sign. Obviously that's not the case anymore...Neuvirth (and most goalies in the NHL circa 2010) goes down to his knees literally every time he faces a shot. Goalies spend more time on their knees than ever before, and in the last decade the idea of going down and staying down has evolved immensely, to the point where goalies now work hard on moving side to side after they've already dropped to the ice. And that's the evolution of goaltending in the last 30 years in a nutshell...from never going down, to rarely going down, to going down and getting right back up, and finally to going down and staying down. And that makes sense to a point. Let's say I go down to make the first save, and the rebound kicks a few feet to one side, into a dangerous'll be faster to stay down and slide than it will be to get up, push off, and go back down to stop the rebound. So is it even possible for a modern NHL goalie to go down too soon? Oh, yes...

Cases in point: the first two goals Neuvirth gave up Wednesday night. On the first, Nikolai Kulemin steals the puck at the top of the slot just to Nuevirth's right. He moves toward the net and pulls the puck to the backhand to avoid John Erskine, and immediately Nuevirth is down. All Kulemin did was move the puck to his backhand! Now there was traffic in front, and a potential shot from a backhand from that spot would be very tough to read. But now Neuvirth's gotta keep moving right to left to stay with the shooter, and in his panic to keep pace he eventually over commits to his left. Kulemin pulls the puck back to his forehand, and Neuvirth cant shift his weight around to recover in time. 1-0 Leafs.

One the second goal, John Mitchell comes down the right wing and makes a nice move to the middle to buy some time and space. And again, Neuvirth is immediately down (it's hard to see that in the clip, but it's fairly obvious in the last replay shown from behind the net). He pushes right, eventually gets back up and moves over to get in position for Kaberle's shot, but he's late getting set and can't do anything but accept the screen in front. In the end it's a tough save to make anyway, but Neuvirth didn't do himself any favors with how he played the situation.

So, he's down waaaaaay too early on both goals, and that's signal #1 that he's tired. And incidentally, both times he went down early it was, at least in part, because there were bodies in front of him. Which brings us to telltale tired sign #2: how he dealt with traffic in front of him. But since this is getting long, we'll tackle that issue another time.

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