The Goalie Guild explains why 'deeper is better' for Roberto Luongo

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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.”

Thumbnail image for luongodeep.jpgIt’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.

Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for grinningluongo.jpgWhen 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.

buffscreensluongo.jpgLast 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.

A big night for the rookies and a big win for the Maple Leafs

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William Nylander helped get Toronto started on Thursday, extending his point streak to 10 games — a new Maple Leafs franchise record for a rookie.

Connor Brown finished it with his 17th goal of the season, securing a 4-2 win for the Maple Leafs over the New Jersey Devils.

Toronto has won three in a row and moves three points clear of Boston for third in the Atlantic Division, with a game in hand, which further helps the Maple Leafs’ playoff chances with nine games remaining on their schedule.

Just another big night for Toronto’s impressive crop of rookies.

Auston Matthews had a pair of assists.

— Nylander had a goal and an assist. He set one and tied another franchise rookie record on Thursday.

Mitch Marner had an assist, giving him 40 helpers this season, which ties the franchise rookie record set in 1943-44.

“They’re good players,” said coach Mike Babcock, per the Toronto Star. “I didn’t know Marner would make the team. I knew Matthews and Nylander were good players. I knew Brown and (Zach) Hyman were relentless. I had no idea (Nikita) Zaitsev was as close to how good he is.

“We have lots of good players.”

In May of 2015, Babcock predicted at his introductory press conference that the Maple Leafs would, during their massive rebuild, endure “pain.” This was, he said, to be a long process — a “massive, massive challenge.”

Approaching the two-year anniversary of that event — after all the losing that franchise and its fan base has gone through, which obviously helped them with the Matthews lottery last year — the Maple Leafs are poised to make the playoffs with a nucleus of young players that present even more promise for the future.

“We just want to get in to the playoffs, and give ourselves a chance,” continued Babcock. “We’re playing well, and finding a way to win games. That’s what we have to continue to do.”

Capitals defeat Blue Jackets in clash of Metropolitan Division powers

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WASHINGTON (AP) T.J. Oshie scored the shootout winner as the Washington Capitals overcame a stellar performance from Columbus goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky to beat the Blue Jackets 2-1 Thursday night.

Despite 44 saves from Bobrovsky, the Capitals reached 104 points and extended their lead atop the Metropolitan Division and NHL standings. Oshie engendered memories of his Sochi Olympic shootout performance by again beating Bobrovsky, the goalie he scored on four times in six chances that day.

Dmitry Orlov finally cracked Bobrovsky early in the third period on Washington’s 35th shot of the game. Orlov’s goal tied the score after Seth Jones beat Braden Holtby on a wild scramble early in the third for his first goal since Feb. 7.

Holtby had 29 saves in regulation and overtime and three more in the shootout to pick up his 38th victory of the season, one shy of Bobrovsky for the league lead.

A showdown between two of the top three teams in the league jockeying for position atop the Metropolitan Division lacked a playoff feel. But the matchup of two likely Vezina Trophy finalists lived up to that billing as Bobrovsky and Holtby went back and forth with big saves.

Bobrovsky entered the night first in wins, goals-against average and save percentage with Holtby second, second and third in those categories. The 2013 Vezina winner could also be an MVP contender this season given his value to Columbus’ third playoff berth in franchise history.

“When he’s in his game it’s very hard to score on him,” said Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin, who had eight shots stopped by one of his Russian national teammates. “He likes the big moments, he likes pressure. His worth ethic is unbelievable. … In my opinion he’s one of the best goalies in the league right now.”

Methot ‘out for weeks’ after suffering a shattered finger from Crosby clash

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The Ottawa Senators lost defenseman Marc Methot for the bulk of Thursday’s game against the Pittsburgh Penguins, and it seems he’ll be out for quite a while longer, too.

Methot was injured on a Sidney Crosby slash across the hand in the first period. He didn’t return to the game and there was no penalty called on the Penguins captain.

Footage showed the gruesome aftermath of the slash — Methot’s finger on his left hand bloodied and injured as he skated back to the bench.

“His finger is shattered and he’s out for weeks,” said Senators head coach Guy Boucher, per the Ottawa Sun.

Methot immediately confronted Crosby after the slash, which occurred as the Sens blue liner went to dump the puck into the Pittsburgh zone late in the first period.

The Senators got revenge, scoring a 2-1 shootout victory to move within a point of Montreal for the Atlantic Division lead. Crosby was also denied in the shootout.

NHL to make ‘special announcement’ in China next week

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The National Hockey League has announced it will make a “special announcement” at the LeSports Center in Beijing, China next Thursday.

In January, the league’s deputy commissioner Bill Daly made it clear the NHL has interest in playing games in China — likely starting out with pre-season games before potentially adding in some regular season contests in the future, as well.

Just after the league made its announcement on Thursday, the L.A. Kings tweeted out that they will participate in next week’s event, along with the Vancouver Canucks.

In January, hockey insider Darren Dreger reported that the Canucks and Kings were likely to play NHL pre-season games in China this upcoming September.

Last July, members of the Boston Bruins visited China, specifically Beijing and Shanghai, to host hockey clinics in those cities.

Beijing will also host the 2022 Winter Olympics.