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.

Sabres agree with Dylan Cozens on 7-year, $49.7M extension

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BUFFALO, N.Y. — The Buffalo Sabres agreed to terms with forward Dylan Cozens on a seven-year extension worth $49.7 million.

The team announced the contract. Cozens will count $7.1 million against the salary cap through the 2029-30 season.

Cozens, who turns 22, is the latest core player the Sabres have extended over the past six months. Buffalo signed All-Star forward Tage Thompson for $50 million over seven seasons in August and defenseman Mattias Samuelsson to a seven-year, $30 million deal in October.

Rasmus Dahlin, the top pick in 2020 who’s a Norris Trophy candidate and filled in for Thompson at NHL All-Star weekend, figures to be next for a big contract. He’s signed through next season and can begin talking about an extension this summer.

Cozens, who was set to be a restricted free agent, has already set career highs with 17 goals, 26 assists and 43 points – with 30 games left in the season. The seventh pick in 2019, Cozens has 34 goals and 60 assists in 169 regular-season NHL games, all with Buffalo.

The Sabres, led by Dahlin, Thompson, Cozens and 2021 No. 1 pick Owen Power, are contending to make the playoffs. The organization’s 11-year playoff drought dating to 2011 is by far the longest in the league.

Stanley Cup champion Avalanche steadily returning to health

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ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Had his coach been watching, this might have made for an anxious moment: Colorado Avalanche defenseman Cale Makar catching an edge and falling in the fastest skater contest.

Jared Bednar wasn’t tuned in, though, and had no idea what happened in the skills contest over All-Star weekend. Only that Makar emerged from his crash into the boards just fine.

These days, things are definitely looking up for the Stanley Cup champions on the injury front. Defenseman Bowen Byram returns to the lineup, along with forward Valeri Nichushkin. Defenseman Josh Manson is creeping closer to a return. Same for captain Gabriel Landeskog, who’s yet to play this season. Forward Darren Helm is progressing, too.

In spite of all their bumps and bruises, the Avalanche entered the All-Star break in a playoff spot. To weather the injury storm, Colorado has relied on 39 different skaters this season, a mark that’s tied for the most in a single season since the team relocated to Denver in 1995.

“Anybody we can get back right now is huge,” said Makar, whose team kicks off a three-game trip Tuesday night in Pittsburgh.

Byram returns after being sidelined with a lower-body injury since early November. He was an integral part of their Stanley Cup run a season ago, when he led all rookies with nine assists in the postseason. Byram was off to a fast start this season – two goals and three assists in 10 games – before his injury.

“He’s looking great. He’s buzzing out there,” Makar said of his fellow blue liner. “Hopefully it doesn’t take him too long to get back into game mode. But I think he’s a guy that can turn it on pretty quickly.”

Byram missed a chunk of games last season as he dealt with concussion symptoms. This time, he was able to be around the team as he worked his way back.

“I was just happy it wasn’t my head,” Byram said. “It was a lot easier to be out when you’re still feeling good and feel like yourself. … I’m just excited to get going again.”

Count on Byram for as many minutes as necessary, too.

“I’m 100%, so no reason to ease into it,” Byram said. “I’m confident with jumping back in.”

Manson will join the Avalanche on the trip so he can skate with the squad. He’s been out with a lower-body injury since the start of December.

“I do think it helps to get on the road, be around the guys,” Bednar said.

Landeskog could be back “fairly soon,” Bednar said, but didn’t have a definitive timeline quite yet. The longtime Avalanche captain has been sidelined since knee surgery in October.

The Avalanche entered the All-Star break on quite a roll, winning seven of their last eight. They’ve amassed 57 points, which trails Dallas (66 points at the All-Star break), Winnipeg (65) and Minnesota (58) in the Central Division.

One thing the Avalanche are guarding against is another slow start out off the break. It happened over Christmas when the team had a few days off and promptly went 0-4-1 upon their return.

“It’s just shifting the mentality back to game mode. No more vacation,” Makar said. “We still have a long way to go. We’re not where we want to be right now. But there’s a lot of time left.”

Kraken add some size, acquire Jaycob Megna from San Jose

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SEATTLE — The Seattle Kraken acquired defenseman Jaycob Megna from the San Jose Sharks in exchange for a 2023 fourth-round draft pick.

Megna is in the midst of his best season with 12 points in 48 games for the Sharks while averaging more than 19 minutes per game.

“Jaycob has shown with his play this season that he is a responsible defenseman that can be relied on in all situations,” Seattle general manager Ron Francis said. “He provides welcome depth to our defensive group and we are happy to have him join our organization.”

The 6-foot-6, 220-pound Megna will add some size and bulk to Seattle’s lineup. Megna ranked fifth for San Jose in both blocked shots and hits.

Megna previously played for Anaheim for parts of three seasons between 2016-19. The 48 games played this season is a career-high for the 30-year-old.

Seattle is tied for the lead in the Pacific Division and will return from the All-Star break beginning against the New York Islanders.

Islanders sign Bo Horvat to 8-year deal after trading for him

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The New York Islanders signed center Bo Horvat to an eight-year contract less than a week after acquiring him in a trade with the Vancouver Canucks.

The team announced the contract after their first practice following the All-Star break. Horvat’s deal is worth $68 million and carries a $8.5 million salary cap hit through the 2030-31 season.

General manager Lou Lamoriello joked to reporters at practice on Long Island that Horvat’s contract was “too long and it’s too much money.”

The Islanders sent forward Anthony Beauvillier, prospect Aatu Raty and a protected first-round pick to the Canucks for Horvat . He was set to be an unrestricted free agent after the season, and the trade was a result of Vancouver and Horvat’s camp being unable to reach a deal last summer.

Lamoriello and Horvat expressed confidence about getting a deal done after the trade. The 27-year-old has scored more than 30 goals for a second consecutive season.

Horvat was chosen as an All-Star and played for the Pacific Division despite the trade. He played with longtime Canucks teammate Elias Pettersson and combined on one last goal together before parting ways.

“I want to get going,” Horvat said after the All-Star 3-on-3 tournament. “That’s enough. Let’s start playing some games and getting to know the guys. I just want to start playing hockey again.”

Horvat was on vacation with his family in Orlando when he was traded. He said coach Lane Lambert wanted him to enjoy All-Star festivities before getting rolling with the Islanders, who play at the Philadelphia Flyers.

“Obviously getting my legs under me is going to be No. 1 and getting systems down and obviously chemistry with the new linemates and stuff like that,” Horvat said.

After facing the Flyers and Seattle, Horvat will play against his former team when Vancouver visits UBS Arena.