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Sports

Lots of hockey. Lots of golf. Other sports too. 

1-Play Goalie: Thunderbolts and Lightning: Andrey Vasilevskiy

Minivan Dad

20-year old Andrey Vasilevskiy has about the coolest pad setup in the National Hockey League.

His lightning bolt relief blue and white pads were on full display when he started Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Final for the Tampa Bay Lightning in place of the injured Ben Bishop. His game was also on display. Plenty of it. The 2-1 loss to the BlackHawks could hardly be pinned on the rookie. As the fourth youngest goalie ever to start a Stanley Cup Final game, he gave his team a chance to win.

There's one play I'd review with him if I'm Lightning goalie coach Frantz Jean (I'm not, of course). Vasilevskiy's reverse V-H (RVH) post integration on his blocker side includes a paddle-down stick position and a very deep knee and hip flexion, similar to Jonathan Quick. For the record, I'm a big proponent of RVH, but it is susceptible to both overuse and unnecessary exaggeration. Brandon Saad's Game 4-winning goal on Vasilevskiy is a perfect example. This sequence isn't really even about the RVH. It's about a young goalie needing to learn how to establish and maintain his advantage in situational play.

Let's dig in.

With a little over 6 minutes to go in the third period, and the score tied 1-1, Saad takes the puck on his forehand into a low angle blocker-side net drive from below the goal line.

As Saad comes to the side of the crease, Vasilevskiy deflects the puck with his stick.

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The puck bounces off of Saad's trail leg, coming with him across the crease.

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Saad is able to control the puck at the top left of the crease, just enough to backhand it through the sliding goalie's pads and into the net for the game-winner. 

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Most observers would say that this is a case of puck luck in Saad's favor. I agree. It's incredibly lucky. However, in battles such as this, players can make their own luck. Saad does this by driving the net, being aware, and extremely talented. (As of this writing, he is also very rich after being traded to Columbus and signing a huge contract extension!) Vasilevskiy is unlucky, I believe, because his technique allows for the balance of puck luck to tip in his opponent's favor.

As the play begins, Vasilevskiy integrates his post with a paddle down reverse VH technique. "Vasy" has the entire low angle sealed, with his back inside edge engaged, and he is relatively tall against the post. There is nothing more for him to do, really, except maintain his post integration and allow the play to develop.

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As Saad drives below the goal line, the young goalie further loads his horizontal post leg, in preparation to resist the net rush.

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This is a moment of truth here. Vasilevskiy correctly anticipates that Saad has to bring the puck to his backhand to have any kind of scoring chance, as Tampa defenseman Anton Stralman has engaged Saad and prevented any kind of step back play. Saad has to bring the puck across Vasilevskiy's reach. Vasy cuts off the cross crease drive by Saad with an aggressive stick play. It's basically a paddle down poke check.

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Here's the problem. He reaches far out with his right hand in order to make this play, resulting in his weight being distributed low and well over his right pad. He's actually given up his post seal in the process, and is putting a large amount of stress on his right knee and hip. 

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Even with his aggressive play, the paddle down stick position is still a passive blocking technique. If he had remained more upright and able to poke check with the blade of his stick, he might have been able to direct the puck more decisively away from the attack while still maintaining his post integration. Instead, he simply deflects the puck back against Saad's leg, and the scramble is on. 

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The real problem that I have with Vasy's execution here is based on what happens next, because the position he has gotten himself into severely limits his recovery. Once he is loaded far right and low into his blocker side RVH, he is totally committed to the paddle down puck block. It's an all-or-nothing play. If it works, great. If not...

When the puck comes loose and into a dangerous position, he needs to reestablish his balance, load his right skate, and push across. From his starting position, however, he has to make one too many adjustments, leaving the ice under both pads unsealed, his 5-hole open, and his stick trailing his center.

Seen from inside the net, which is my favorite camera angle for these things, Vasy's movements are simply too inefficient to insure solid coverage. It's not that he can't make a save in this situation, it's that his ability to do it is much more dependent on chance than it should be. 

He starts off fine. He's young, flexible and strong. I'd like to see him stay taller on the post here, but at this point he is anticipating Saad's low angle drive, and very few NHL goalie coaches will fault him for this position. He's got the post sealed, his skate toe is on the post with the pad overlapping just in case he has to push across or out into the slot, and he's braced against his back inside edge should Saad initiate any contact.

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When he deflects the puck, though, he is further extended to his right, and overloaded on his horizontal right pad. His off leg is truly off-- the ice, that is, so that he has no engagement of his left skate or leverage other than his body lean.

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After the deflection, he can see the play developing to his left. He is trying to track the puck with his eyes and chest, but his center of gravity remains well to his right. 

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Had Vasy been less committed over his post pad on his aggressive initial play, he would have had two options. The first would have been to seal the left pad horizontally, lean his weight onto the pad, raise his right knee and engage his right inside edge in a true butterfly push. The second would be to initiate the same left lean and horizontal pad seal, and push off the post, which is likely what Quick would do. (He's basically the poster boy for it.) The latter option is, in fact, what Vasy tries to do next. His is an inefficient move, though-- the entire axis of his body is still leaning to his right, away from the flow of the action.

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At this point, the young goalie's in trouble and he knows it. The puck is on Saad's backhand, and Vasy hasn't got the momentum to get there. So he gathers on his right inside edge to perform a true butterfly push. 

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Lots of guys make this second push, Quick included. When Quick does it, though, it's from a powerful, loaded position. It's a frontal assault on the shooter that cuts his angle to nothing. On this play, Vasilevskiy's is uncontrolled and defensive, because he is in desperation mode. The ice is completely unsealed, and his right arm and stick are still dragging behind the play. 

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The simplest line of attack for Saad, straight back at the net and along the ice, is wide open. Saad doesn't have to do anything fancy, and Vasy pays the price.

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Is Vasilevskiy unlucky in this particular (over)analysis? Sure. Would Saad have scored anyway if Vasy had played the sequence from his initial, more upright Reverse V-H position? Possibly, but I'd like Vasy's chances with a more efficient and balanced recovery.

Ultimately, Andrey Vasilevskiy will learn the difference between being aggressive and being in control. When he does, look out. 

Lightning bolts are cool. Thunderbolts are scary.