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.

Goaltending remains biggest question for much-improved Blues

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Sometimes it feels like the St. Louis Blues have faced questions in net for about as long as water’s been wet.

In signing Jake Allen to a four-year, $17.4 million contract a little more than two years ago, the Blues hoped that they might finally have a true No. 1 goalie after bouncing around from Jaroslav Halak to Ryan Miller to Brian Elliott. They even gave Martin Brodeur a brief shot during the twilight games of his career.

(No, you weren’t hallucinating. Brodeur really did play for the Blues.)

Instead, Allen’s been a liability, to the point that he briefly more-or-less lost the 2017-18 starting job to Carter Hutton.

Interestingly, both of the Blues goalies cross their fingers for a rebound next season. The transition from Hutton to Chad Johnson is disastrous on paper if you only judge the netminders by their 2017-18 numbers, yet the bigger picture argues that Johnson can be one of the more reliable backups. Despite a horrendous .891 save percentage from last season, Johnson still has a career average save percentage of .910.

You can’t ask for much better than that from your No. 2, but the Blues still missed the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs even after Hutton played like a great starter for chunks of the past season. Simply put, the Blues need more from Allen.

Let’s consider some of the factors that might impact Allen.

  • To some extent, the 27-year-old (who turns 28 on Aug. 7) is who he is. Allen already has 219 regular-season and 22 playoff games under his belt. His career .913 save percentage is pretty mediocre, thus there’s a fear that the Blues will need to overcome Allen on more than a few occasions.
  • That said, he did generate a .920 save percentage over 47 games in 2015-16, and strong work during the 2016-17 postseason argues that Allen has a higher ceiling than many might assume.
  • No doubt, Allen’s 2017-18 was abysmal, as he went 27-25-3 with a backup-caliber .906 save percentage.

It’s frequently wise to dig a little deeper to try to figure out why a goalie might struggle. In Allen’s case last season, it came down to special teams situations. While he boasted a virtually identical even-strength save percentage in 2017-18 (.919) compared to 2016-17 (.918), his shorthanded save percentage plummeted from a career-high .901 to a career-low .834.

There’s a real worry with some goalies who simply can’t cut it in PK situations, whether that comes down to questionable lateral movement, struggles to see around screens, or any number of explanations. Even after considering those long-term concerns, it’s comforting to realize that last season might just be an aberration.

  • The Blues aren’t that far behind powers like the Maple Leafs when it comes to improving during the off-season. One of the delights of their bold moves to try to contend is that they landed a near-Selke-level two-way player in Ryan O'Reilly.
  • Some good and bad news is that the Blues generally carried on the tradition of playing strong defense and hogging the puck last season. At even-strength, they allowed the fifth-fewest “high-danger” chances, according to Natural Stat Trick.

The bright side is that the structure could very well give Allen a chance to enjoy a rejuvenation. The less optimistic take is that Allen has struggled at times even with a sturdy team in front of him.

  • Such digging doesn’t immediately dismiss Allen’s shorthanded struggles. Apparently the Blues allowed the fifth-fewest high-danger chances on the penalty kill, also according to Natural Stat Trick. It’s up to Allen more than anyone else to turn around those bad PK numbers, or at least it appears that way on paper.

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Blues GM Doug Armstrong made quite a few moves that lead you to believe that St. Louis is swinging for the fences heading into 2018-19. If a letdown costs him is job, at least he’d be going out with a bang by making some attractive tweaks.

As wise as Armstrong often appears, so far, the organization making Allen “the guy” in net has really backfired.

Ultimately, his job and the Blues’ fate probably lands on Allen’s shoulders. Improvement seems plausible, yet we’ll need to wait and see if he’ll improve enough to allow the Blues to take advantage of all the weapons they added this summer.

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.

Immediate jump unlikely to be best for Kotkaniemi, Habs

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The Montreal Canadiens shouldn’t ask “can Jesperi Kotkaniemi jump straight from the 2018 NHL Draft to the main roster?” Instead, they’re better off wondering if he should.

Canadiens GM Marc Bergevin said that the 18-year-old will get a chance to impress in training camp after performing well at development camp, according to NHL.com’s Sean Farrell.

“He got better every day, so we’re going in with an open mind,” Bergevin said. “I don’t know, but just the fact that he’s signed and he’s coming to camp and he’s closer to the NHL. Where he’s going to be Oct. 1, I can’t tell you, but we see a lot of potential and growth in this young man.”

That’s fair, and the Canadiens would be justified in giving the third pick of the 2018 NHL Draft the nine-game audition before sending him to Finland or the AHL instead of burning the first year of Kotkaniemi’s entry-level contract.

Cautionary tale

But, big picture, this is probably one of those situations where both sides would be better off if Kotkaniemi dips his toes in the water rather than diving right in. If Montreal needs a quick example of a player whose rookie deal hasn’t been used in an optimal way, they might want to consider Jesse Puljujärvi, who went fourth overall in 2016.

Puljujärvi only played in 28 games in 2016-17, making a minimal impact while pushing himself that much closer to ending his rookie deal. Things didn’t get that much better last season, as he only generated 20 points in 65 games. A breakthrough is quite possible in 2018-19, but the downside would be that the Oilers would then need to give him a raise, and would only really enjoy one high-value season from his entry-level contracts.

That’s the sort of poor asset management Montreal should be concerned about, especially if they’re being realistic about their chances next season.

Tension in the air

Now, it’s plausible – maybe probable – that things could go a little better in 2018-19. For the most obvious example, the Habs could conceivably be viable if Carey Price returns to elite form (and good health).

In all honesty, the Lightning and Maple Leafs seem slated to be light years ahead of Montreal. The Panthers and especially the Bruins head into the season with higher hopes, too. The Habs run the risk of falling short of the postseason even if they improve considerably, so why not just push Kotkaniemi’s contract back a year instead of possibly wasting it?

The Finnish forward only turned 18 on July 6, so you’d expect him to be a bit less polished compared to an older prospect like, say, Brady Tkachuk. The worst-case scenario might be if Kotkaniemi plays well enough to hit double digits in games played, yet generally struggles and ends up stunting his growth while wasting a year of that ELC.

It might not be the healthiest environment for Kotkaniemi to debut, either.

Bergevin and head coach Claude Julien must be at least a touch concerned about job security, and the atmosphere has a chance to be pretty toxic. Critics blast Julien for how he handles young players at the best of times, but how ugly might the scene be if fans are calling for Bergevin and Julien to be replaced?

Montreal seems pretty locked-in to its forward group this season, too, and that’s possibly accurate even if they actually pull the trigger on a Max Pacioretty trade. The return could be pretty modest if Kotkaniemi’s is merely a minor upgrade over a replacement-level player.

***

The Habs already made a divisive choice in selecting Kotkaniemi after lucking into the third pick in 2018. Many believe that Montreal aimed at need first and foremost, with the expectation being that Kotkaniemi will develop into the first-line center, a piece that’s eluded Montreal for ages. The pressure’s eventually going to be pretty fierce for the prospect to deliver, so the Canadiens would be wise to wait until he’s truly ready.

And, again, the decision need not be based on altruism alone. Instead, by doing what’s most likely best for Kotkaniemi, the Canadiens stand a better chance to take advantage of his cheap contract when they’d ideally be better prepared to contend.

There are worse problems to have, yet Montreal really needs to start getting these decisions right if they want to turn things around.

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.

PHT Morning Skate: Jagr still holds NHL hope?; Islanders turning the page

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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.

• Jaromir Jagr hasn’t given up on the NHL, but he’s in no rush to return either. (Sportsnet)

• The New York Islanders are looking to turn the page after the departure of captain John Tavares. (NHL.com)

Artemi Panarin has given the Columbus Blue Jackets a contract deadline. (The Athletic)

• Would Tyler Seguin want to play with the Montreal Canadiens? (Montreal Gazette)

• Ranking each NHL team based on their locked-in, young core. (ESPN)

• With the thrill of the 2018 NHL Draft already worn off, we might as well take a look ahead to the 2019 rendition and all that it has to offer. (Last Word on Hockey)

• From wives’ room fights to brotherly competition, St. Louis molded Brady Tkachuk. (The Sporting News)

• Do the Vancouver Canucks have an asset on defense that they can work into a trade that would benefit the club? (The Province)

• If you don’t want to read and would rather take two minutes to watch a video, here’s some possible reasons why a trade for Erik Karlsson hasn’t happened yet, here’s your chance. (Sportsnet)

• Where does the line of Filip Forsberg, Ryan Johansen, and Viktor Arvidsson — the JoFA line — fit in the pantheon of the league’s top lines? (Pred Lines)

• You want offseason grades for all 31 NHL teams? Here you go. (The Athletic)

• And here’s a list of the best player to ever wear each number in the NHL. (Puck Prose)

• The Class of Canada: Toronto Maple Leafs vs. Winnipeg Jets. (The Hockey Writers)

• Help is on the way for the Chicago Blackhawks aging defense. (Chicago Mag)

Mike Hoffman‘s fiancée files for disclosure of information in harassment allegations. (Ottawa Citizen)


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

Vegas Golden Knights, U.S. Army agree to end trademark dispute

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The Vegas Golden Knights and the U.S. Army have called an end to their trademark battle regarding the usage of the ‘Golden Knights’ mark and name.

Owner Bill Foley announced on Thursday that the two sides have entered into a trademark coexistence agreement where the U.S. Army will continue using the ‘Golden Knights’ marks and names with its parachute exhibition team. The Golden Knights will continue to use ‘Vegas Golden Knights’ and ‘Golden Knights’ in regards to the hockey team.

“We are pleased that we have agreed to coexist regarding the use of the ‘Golden Knights’ mark and name,” said Foley in a statement. “Our discussions with the Army were collaborative and productive throughout this entire process. We are appreciative of their efforts and commitment to reaching an amicable resolution.”

The U.S. Army filed a notice of opposition in January against against Black Knight Sports and Entertainment over the use of the name ‘Golden Knights.’ Foley is a graduate of West Point and originally wanted to name the team the Black Knights (after the Army sports teams) but decided against it.

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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.