Last night I shared my doubts about the Vancouver Canucks’ strategy to adapt Roberto Luongo’s style, specifically asking him to play deeper in his crease and challenge shooters less often. Since I’m far from a goaltending guru, though, I thought it might be wise to ask someone who knows his or her stuff. I reached out to Justin Goldman of The Goalie Guild who wrote this counterpoint argument titled “Deeper is Better for Luongo.”
It’s only natural for Canucks fans and media to meet Roberto Luongo’s “tweaked style” with cautious optimism, and in some cases, skepticism. For many years, the foundation of his butterfly style was based on eliminating a shooter’s time and space by playing as high and as “big” in the crease as possible.
That intimidating presence, combined with great quickness for his size, has been the secret to his long-term success.
Even to this day, eliminating time and space is crucial for Luongo (or any goalie) to consistently stop the puck. He covers angles, sets his feet, builds a wall, seals holes with a tight butterfly and makes the correct save selection. The shot is absorbed, or if a rebound is given up, he slides behind the puck with a straight back and moves that wall wherever it needs to go.
Over the summer, Luongo reportedly shed seven pounds from cycling. Now he’s lighter on his feet and a bit quicker overall. Therefore, with even better agility than he already had for his size, I feel this new adjustment will be very beneficial for his game.
Before I explain why, it’s important to realize that playing a step deeper in his crease is not a permanent change. It is what goalie coaches call a situational adjustment. Luongo will use his honed mental skills to be less robotic and more of a “read and react” goaltender by appropriately choosing when to make this adjustment. It will literally depend on each situation he faces.
When breaking down Luongo’s movement before and after the adjustment, focus solely on the path his feet travel. They go from either post to the top of his crease and stops outside of the blue paint. He then makes micro-adjustments left and right, but generally stays as high as the play allows. His feet shuffle, recover and then use the inside edges of his skates to push laterally.
But what happens when a shooting angle changes so suddenly that he has to push backwards to cover those posts again? If Luongo is too far out, he’s in trouble. The distance his feet have to travel from outside of the crease back to either post is much further than if he plays one step deeper. Remember, it’s not always lateral distance that matters, but vertical distance as well. Side-to-side passes are a pertinent threat, but so too are high-to-low and those killer diagonal back-door passes.
If I were to diagram this adjustment, I would draw two triangles. Imagine Luongo’s feet travelling the path of each triangle. A bigger triangle would take longer for him to get from one point to the other. But a smaller triangle means the distance between all three points are shorter, so therefore his travel time around the smaller triangle is much faster.
Therefore, playing one step deeper in his crease automatically shortens the distance between those two vertical points. And since Luongo already has an intimidating frame that takes up a ton of space, this helps eliminate the time it takes for his feet to travel from above his crease back to either post. Sure, shooters in front of him might see a sliver of extra space in the corners, but if a shot is fired on goal, Luongo also has more time to react to it.
Simply put, playing a step deeper in his crease does create more time and space for the shooter, but it also creates more time and space for Luongo to make saves. Because of this adjustment, he will travel shorter distances and get from Point-A to Point-B quicker than ever.
Last year, Luongo really struggled with traffic in front of his net. Because he tried so hard to eliminate space by playing above the blue paint, he was unable to execute in a clean and unfettered manner. He was constantly being interfered with, nudged or tied up. He would fall backwards, get tripped up or stumble and then lose sight of the puck. It affected his rebound control and ultimately, his confidence. He fought the puck so often that it influenced his timing and rhythm for most of the season.
By playing a step deeper in his crease, the space between his body and the traffic in front of him won’t cause as much interference with his execution. He will have better focus because he won’t be hindered as often. More importantly, he will have better vision because that extra space gives him another split second to track the puck through bodies or re-directions.
In conclusion, playing a step deeper not only leads to less movement, more time to react and the ability to get from one point to the other faster, but it also conserves energy. And how many people thought Luongo was simply over-worked last season? With Melanson by his side on a more consistent basis than Ian Clark, I think Luongo will thrive by playing a more conservative and efficient style. It won’t happen overnight, but it will still be a step forward in his game’s overall evolution.
A young man’s deeds become an old man’s wisdom. By taking what he already knows and adding a new dynamic to his style, Luongo will be more comfortable and confident reading plays. And when the intensity picks up late in the season, all of that conserved energy could mean the difference between an early-round exit and a trip to the 2011 Stanley Cup Finals.
Thanks again to Justin Goldman for his guest post. Make sure to check out The Goalie Guild for more great goalie-centric content.