This is a guest post written by former professional hockey player and current goalie coach Rob Gherson. His background and links to follow his work can be found at the end of this article.
Playoffs are the best time of the hockey season. The games get more intense as the stakes are at their highest. As a player, it’s the most fun part of the season. Your life revolves around the game in a way that would be impossible to sustain through a long regular season. For the goalies, it’s where reputations are made.
There’s a phrase that’s bothered me for a while about goaltending. You may have heard it, “Goalies are voodoo”. It’s become a thing because goaltending is hard to quantify and for most people, including many lifelong hockey people, hard to evaluate. My belief as someone who has been dedicated to goaltending my entire life as a goalie and now as a goalie coach, and sort of capable writer, is to simplify goaltending a little bit, so that anyone can look at goaltending with a more trained eye. Hopefully, these details will help you enjoy the game a little bit more and appreciate what us weirdos behind the awesome masks are trying to do.
With all that said, I wrote down a sort of scouting report on the starting goalies for the upcoming series between your Penguins and the New York Islanders. Tristan Jarry and Semyon Varlamov. I’ll start with the home town goalie.
Jarry had an up and down season. He started slowly (.859 save percentage in 6 January games) like most NHL goalies did with the shortened pre-season and finished slowly (.897 save percentage in 4 May games,) but the middle of his season was strong enough to give him above league average numbers.
At his best, he moves well, fills up the net with good size in his stance and has good positioning and depth. Watch this save from his May 1st shutout against Washington. He does a great job shuffling and staying on his feet as Anthony Mantha (39) carries the puck across the middle of the zone. Because he stays on his feet, he’s able to c-cut out under control on the pass and make the save on Justin Schultz (2) with minimal pre-shot movement.
This save below shows more of the same. A good read of the play, a great, hard push and beating the pass on his feet, effectively giving Conor Sheary (73) nothing, before slamming the door with a big, blocking butterfly.
When Jarry struggles, he tends to over-slide instead of beating the pass on his feet. He doesn’t get scored on here, but in a long playoff series, when teams can really scout and game plan for him, plays like this one where he slides on a very long pass, instead of getting their on his feet like some of the other clips could hurt him. Every goalie has moments like this though, so it’s not something I would worry about much, but it could be a sign that he’s not on his game, if we’re seeing a lot of it.
The one area of his game I would be concerned about is his overuse of RVH. For those of you unfamiliar with the term, RVH stands for “reverse vertical horizontal” and it refers, confusingly to a goalie’s pad placement on the post, usually when the puck is in the corner, or below the dots along the boards somewhere. It’s called Reverse Vertical Horizontal, because the original move for goalies in that area, was VH (vertical horizontal), which meant that a goalie’s post leg was up (vertical) and their other leg was down along the ice (horizontal). Sometime around Jonathan Quick’s cup run in 2012, everyone started to primarily use RVH instead of VH. RVH gets dunked on a lot (mostly correctly, in my opinion) when goalies get beat upstairs from bad angles, but, that’s not really my concern with it from Jarry. He’s big enough to fill the top part of the net when he uses it, and in watching most of the goals he allowed this year, I didn’t see any shots beat him high when he was in RVH (I could be wrong, I didn’t watch every goal). Where I could see him being exploited by good scouting is how he tends to use it like a comfort blanket, going into it for no real reason other than habit. This goal against New Jersey is by no means his “fault” but watch Jarry’s body weight right before the pass is made. He goes down into RVH right before Vatanen (45) makes his pass and as a result, his weight is heading the wrong way as the pass is made and he’s unable to get a push across to Wood’s (44) stick. I don’t think this play was by design for New Jersey, but it’s something to watch for in a long playoff series.
One other side effect of overusing RVH is that goalies tend to get mesmerized by the puck when they’re down in RVH and forget to shoulder check to see where the danger is in front of the net. On this play he goes into RVH as Jakub Voracek (93) gets below the dots, which is the right time to use RVH to avoid giving the shooter too much net, but, because he stays in it as he rounds the net and slides across, he doesn’t give himself a chance to shoulder check to find the trailer Erik Gustafsson (56) in front of the net. He gets a good push, but he doesn’t pick up Gustafsson until right as he gets the pass, so he ends up sliding to an area and drifting past the puck instead of sliding right to Gustafsson’s stick angle, or even beating the pass on his feet as Gustafsson was high enough that sliding wasn’t really the best option.
Because of this lack of precision, the puck ends up trickling through him.
Tomorrow, we’ll discuss Semyon Varlamov.
About the Author
Rob Gherson is a former professional goaltender from Toronto. He was drafted in 2002 by the Washington Capitals and played 5 years of pro hockey in various organizations. He won the Calder Cup in 2008 with the Chicago Wolves, beating the Wilkes-Barre Scranton Penguins in the finals. While playing in the OHL, he started the 2002 CHL All Star game representing the OHL Western Conference against the QMJHL Dilio Conference, sharing co-MVP honors with Marc-Andre Fleury. He is currently a goalie coach in Toronto and recently founded Conscious Goaltending, a company with the goal of simplifying and improving goaltending knowledge across the hockey universe from the hardcore goalie nerd to the rookie shooter.
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