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.

PHT Morning Skate: Dotchin details emerge; China market for growth, players

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Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit? Email us at phtblog@nbcsports.com.

• Up top, that’s the new All-Star Game logo with this season’s rendition in San Jose.

Jake Dotchin checked in 30 pounds over his playing weight from last season. (TSN)

• The NHL is going to be patient if it wants to reap the rewards that a China partnership could produce. (The Hockey News)

• Sticking with the NHL… they believe Henrik Zetterberg is a legitimate case for long-term injured reserve, but they’ll investigate anyway. (The Score)

• U.S. gambling monster lurks under the NHL’s bed. (Winnipeg Free Press)

• Here’s an oxymoron: The NHL’s most underrated superstar. (The Hockey Writers)

• Here are the most overpaid players heading into the 2018-19 season. (Daily Hive)

• Every team’s biggest issue heading into the new season. (CBS Sports)

• How Sharks’ all-in trade for Erik Karlsson affects West’s power structure, now and later. (Sporting News)

• Who cares what Connor McDavid‘s rating is. Here are the highest rated tough guys. (Real Sport)

• Vegas remains the NHL’s hottest ticket. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)

• China both a market for growth and a pipeline for players. (The Athletic)

Jesse Puljujarvi wants to take the next step in Edmonton. (Edmonton Sun)

• When pro athletes are accused of abuse, how often does punishment follow? (The Tennessean)


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Max Domi ejected after punching, bloodying Aaron Ekblad

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Max Domi didn’t take long to make an impact with the Montreal Canadiens, but it might earn him a suspension for when the games actually start to matter.

Domi was ejected from tonight’s 5-2 exhibition loss to the Florida Panthers after landing what many call a sucker-punch on defenseman Aaron Ekblad. As you can see, Ekblad fell and was bloodied by the blow, and did not return to the contest.

The best news is that, so far, it sounds like Ekblad is OK. Being bloodied by such an exchange would already be a concern, but that was especially worrisome since the 22-year-old has a history of concussion issues.

Panthers coach Bob Boughner said that team doctors determined that Ekblad didn’t suffer a concussion or a broken nose, according to The Athletic‘s Arpon Basu. Now, it’s worth noting that sometimes concussion symptoms don’t truly surface until after the adrenaline wears off, so there’s a chance that an additional update about Ekblad could be less positive. Either way, it’s positive that the early word is optimistic.

Whether you think it’s a fair course or not, Ekblad’s relative health could be good news for Domi and the Canadiens, as the Department of Player Safety factors injuries into possible suspension decisions.

Domi, 23, received a one-game suspension back in March 2016 for instigating this fight with Ryan Garbutt:

Whether he’s suspended or not, this isn’t a great start for Domi, although some Habs fans will be happy to see Tie’s son assert himself. So there’s that.

In case you’re wondering, Alex Galchenyuk is making a positive first impression with the Arizona Coyotes, including scoring two goals in a recent exhibition. The hits just keep coming for Canadiens GM Marc Bergevin, but at least they aren’t in the literal form of Domi’s fists.

Did you note that these two teams are division rivals? They’ll take on each other four times in 2018-19, so we’ll see if Luongo’s warning holds up.

“Bit of a gutless play,” Luongo said, via TSN’s John Lu. ” … We definitely won’t forget about it.”

The Panthers will have a chance to forget about it, or at least let the anger simmer down, as the two teams don’t meet in the regular season until a Dec. 28 contest in Florida.

UPDATE:

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Sabres are remarkably expensive, but relief is coming

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After finally hammering out a bridge deal with rising forward Sam Reinhart, the Buffalo Sabres’ roster seems more or less set for 2018-19.

There’s plenty of debate regarding whether this team will improve, take a step back after a minor step forward, or idle in the same mediocre position they were last season. But one thing is clear once you peruse their Cap Friendly page and other listings of their salary structure, even if it might sneak up on you: this team is expensive.

Following the addition of Reinhart’s new $3.65 million cap hit, the Sabres have committed $76,684,524 to the cap this coming season, leaving them with about $2.815M in cap space.

That’s staggering stuff, especially considering: a) their moribund lack of success in recent seasons and b) the profound savings they’ll enjoy from prominent players (Rasmus Dahlin, Casey Mittelstadt) competing on entry-level contracts.

Let’s take a look at the Sabres’ somewhat puzzling salary structure to try to see warning signs, reasons for optimism, and situations that could go either way.

Long-term commitments

Three contracts stand out the most for Buffalo, and they’re a mixed bag:

Jack Eichel, 21: $10M cap hit through 2025-26
Kyle Okposo, 30: $6M through 2022-23
Rasmus Ristolainen, 23: $5.4M through 2021-22

It would be wise to throw in two other deals, too:

Patrik Berglund, 30: $3.85M through 2021-22
Carter Hutton, 32: $2.75M through 2020-21

Plenty of people criticized (and still criticize) the Eichel deal. Personally, I think he’s worth it. Even if you make an impassioned argument that Eichel’s only worth, say, $8.5M, Buffalo would have gained little in playing hardball there.

Considering the impact of the aging curve, Okposo’s contract looks like a real problem right now.

That said, Okposo absolutely faced extenuating circumstances considering how closely the 2017-18 season followed profound health scares, so maybe things improve in 2018-19? Consider that, even last season, Okposo generated 35 points over 51 games from November through February, which would prorate to about 56 points during a full season. That’s not world-beating stuff, yet if Okposo could generate 55-60 points while producing positive possession, the $6M wouldn’t seem so outrageous.

Okposo is just one of those intriguing pivotal considerations for Buffalo, as we’ll get to Ristolainen soon.

The nice thing, again, for Buffalo’s salary structure is that young players give them some default bargains. While bonuses can cloud matters, they’ll be paying Mittelstadt below market value for two seasons, while Dahlin’s primed to begin his three-year rookie contract. Such considerations – not to mention the dream of Alex Nylander “figuring things out” and giving them another bargain – could make those riskier deals easier to stomach.

Passing the torch?

The best news is that Buffalo’s ugliest deals are largely going away, whether they’re ending after 2018-19 or 2019-20.

Especially bad deals off the books after 2018-19:

Jason Pominville, 35: $5.6M
Matt Moulson, 34: $3.975M

Worst deal expiring after 2019-20:

Zach Bogosian, 28: $5.143M

With Jeff Skinner (26, $5.725M) entering a contract year, the Sabres would enjoy plenty of room to extend him – if they want to – considering the money freed up by those expiring Moulson and Pominville deals.

The Sabres see more than just Bogosian’s deal expire after two more seasons, and by then, they should know if Marco Scandella (28, $4M) was merely overwhelmed by a huge jump in useage (he logged almost exactly four more minutes per game in 2017-18 versus 2016-17, averaging a career-high TOI of 23:19). They’ll be able to gather more intel on forwards Vladimir Sobotka (31, $3.5M) and Conor Sheary (26, $3M) as well. Oh yeah, and they’d cross the bridge to a new deal with Reinhart.

Now, it’s not guaranteed that all that expiring money will mean that Buffalo will suddenly be cheap to run, as it’s conceivable that a lot of that liberated cash will simply go to Mittelstadt, Skinner, Sheary, Tage Thompson, and Linus Ullmark.

Of course, even if that’s the case, Buffalo would see more money going to younger players, which is generally a positive step in today’s NHL.

Ripple effects

You know how fans often depict Erik Karlsson and other defensemen (maybe Dougie Hamilton?) as players who bring offense yet are glaring liabilities in their own end? Such a criticism holds more weight with a player like Rasmus Ristolainen, who’s sometimes a whipping boy among analytics-minded hockey fans.

Painfully enough, Ristolainen might even be a little overrated on offense, as Bill Comeau’s SKATR comparison tool and other metrics suggest:

The Sabres’ defense has been a uniquely ugly beast, though, and it’s fair to wonder if the tide-changing addition of Rasmus Dahlin may very well – eventually? – produce a domino effect.

Basically, Dahlin’s ascent may gradually place Ristolainen and others (again, Scandella was leaned up far too often last season) in more comfortable situations. It’s unclear if Ristolainen will prove that he’s worth $5.4M per season, but he might at least be able to clean up his numbers if he goes from difficult zone start situations to being used as more of an offensive specialist.

At 23, it’s not outrageous to wonder if a) Ristolainen’s confidence has been shaken and b) there’s still time for him to improve.

As special as Dahlin appears to be, it’s a lot to ask for him to fix things overnight, or even quickly. Unfortunately, the Sabres have been asking their defensemen to do too much in recent years, already. Maybe Dahlin will be so outstanding, so quickly, that such missteps won’t matter so much?

Overall improvements may also help forwards and goalies to thrive at a higher level, too.

Eichel’s dealt with poor support at times during his Buffalo run, not to mention some rough injury luck here and there. While the Ryan O'Reilly trade stings, landing Skinner and Sheary while inserting Dahlin and Mittelstadt into the lineup could really raise the wider competence of this team. Bonus points if Hutton proves that he can be a true No. 1 goalie, or failing that, a good platoon member alongside Ullmark.

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This Sabres team is prohibitively expensive, and faces a serious uphill battle in proving that they’re worth the money.

Ultimately, the franchise’s future may hinge on key fork-in-the-road moments, such as Eichel getting some offensive support, the goaltending situation panning out, and solutions emerging on defense.

Forecasting the future isn’t easy, but the Sabres should at least be fascinating to watch.

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Highlight-reel plays from Pettersson, Talbot spice up preseason

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We’re two weeks away from real, meaningful hockey being played in the NHL, so for now we’ll have to deal with preseason games with rosters featuring 70-80 percent of players who won’t be regulars beginning in October.

But it’s still hockey and there are still highlights to be seen. For example, Tuesday night’s Edmonton Oilers 4-2 win over the Vancouver Canucks featured a save of the season candidate, a great goal and a pair of broken ankles, courtesy of uber-prospect Elias Pettersson.

First up, Cam Talbot is looking for a rebound season and started things off with this robbery on Canucks forward Nikolay Goldobin, fooling everyone in the building:

Goldobin would get his revenge later for the Canucks’ second goal.

The Canucks would finally breakthrough against Talbot in the second period as Sven Baertschi, with his back to the goal, went between-the-legs to end the shutout bid:

Now we move to Pettersson, who is already giving Canucks fans something to look forward to this season. The Calder Trophy candidate didn’t score or help create a goal here, but just absolutely ruined Ryan Stome:

“To be honest, I was thinking of when I was younger and playing [EA Sports NHL] video games and I was dreaming to play here,” Pettersson said afterward via Sportsnet. “To play my first game here in Vancouver, it was a dream come true.”

Pettersson will turn 20 in November, which means many, many more highlights like that are ahead for us to enjoy.

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.