On November 20, the Toronto Maple Leafs and James Reimer defeated the Carolina Hurricanes in a shootout, 2-1. Brad Malone scored Carolina’s only goal, on a “shot” from below the goal line.
(To be clear, the purpose of this post is not to bash James Reimer, even though the subject is a goal against him. Reimer has been terrific this season, and is a very good goalie, despite what Randy Carlyle thinks. It's pure coincidence that Clare Austin - of InGoal Magazine and @puckologist Twitter fame - recently examined a different unfortunate goal that Reimer allowed against the Winnipeg Jets. Seriously. Coincidence! I do not want the stink-eye!)
This is about the Reverse-VH (RVH) technique. A variation of RVH is utilized by most, if not all, goalies playing at higher levels of competition. For background reading, start with this 2012 InGoal Magazine article by Mike Valley.
Here's the play. This goal is... not good.
(As always, images from NHL GameCenterLive. Which I pay for.)
Yikes! RVH! What happened?
Brad Malone receives the puck and drops below the goal line on the Maple Leafs goalie’s left.
Reimer retreats to a left skate-on-post RVH, drives his left shoulder up against the post, and tries to establish his back skate anchor.
He’s a little over angled in his position, with his shoulders and near pad a little too square to Malone, who has no angle to the net from where he holds the puck.
He does, however, have the low ice and post sealed, so he's basically ok. All he has to do is stay there, block any shot attempt, and react to any movement of the puck to the front of the net.
Unfortunately, this is where the trouble begins. Reimer tries to square his shoulders to Malone, who is still below the goal line. (Maybe he doesn’t trust his RVH positioning after reading Clare’s article?) He really doesn't need to be square to a puck coming from that angle. He's also diminished his ability to react to a pass out, and created an inefficient extra degree of rotation should Malone decide to bring the puck behind the net for a far side wraparound.
Malone, for whatever reason, (maybe he read Clare’s article too!) shoots the puck directly at Reimer. James is basically in a partial butterfly, square to the shot coming from below the goal line. He knows he doesn't have a shoulder seal on the post, so he attempts to reestablish his RVH while using his stick blade to deflect the puck.
When James leans his shoulder up, and toward the post, it causes two unfortunate effects - his stick moves closer to his left pad as his torso becomes slightly more upright, and his left skate moves off of the post as it supports his body shift. So what happens as a result? Malone's shot deflects off of the blade of James' stick, and the puck sneaks in between his left toe and the near post. Ugh.
Basically, Reimer makes a partial butterfly stick save, but the rebound goes into the net!
Every time a goal like this goes in, the questions start. Which, unfortunately, is almost every night in the NHL.
Question #1: Is RVH any good to begin with?
Yes! Reverse-VH is an efficient post-integration technique whose effectiveness can be substantially enhanced by an individual goaltender's game awareness. It allows improved puck vision and better rebound control over the more static traditional V-H (in which the post leg is vertically positioned against the post, and the back pad is horizontal on the ice). It also provides a wider blocking profile on the ice, and the option to transition to a full butterfly or an upright stance in case of a pass out from below the goal line. Importantly, RVH isn't just a passive position. When played properly, it enables adjustment to changing attack angles, as well as an active stick. (I'll also add that Reverse-VH allows goalies who are so inclined - like Reimer - to integrate Lyle Mast's Head Trajectory approach. Don't ask me how, or why, or what, but it's true, and it's important!)
Question #2. Is there something fundamentally wrong with RVH?
No! It's not like RVH is some brand new technique whose flaws are being suddenly revealed to a skeptical world. Goalie coaches everywhere teach RVH as a basic post-integration position. It's not some secret move taught by a mystic on a mountaintop (oh, wait - I already mentioned Head Trajectory!)
In addition to Coach Valley's excellent original InGoal instructional, Greg Balloch has at least two excellent pieces (here and here) about correctable problems with RVH execution. Clare Austin references these in her recent Reimer piece, and also discusses additional pitfalls. And that's just the articles by people I like!
Which brings us to the most important question. Why, why, do these types of goals keep happening? Goalies give up goals in RVH because they fail to seal the ice, or the near post. Sometimes they sag onto their post hip and give up goals to either high corner. (Read Greg Balloch's articles for plenty of examples, just don't do it on an full stomach!) Last spring, I wrote about Andrey Vasilevskiy, and what I thought was an overaggressive paddle-down approach to stick side RVH that led to a net front scramble and a goal in the Stanley Cup Final. The point is, there are lots of different mistakes in RVH execution that lead to ugly-looking goals.
Brad Malone's goal on James Reimer illustrates a root problem that causes so many goalies to have trouble in RVH. Reimer establishes his RVH, then squares himself to a threat below the goal line, then tries to make a save while reestablishing his RVH. It just doesn't work that way. RVH is a goaltending tool. Like all tools, it can be adapted to different jobs, but it has a specific purpose for which it was developed. Too many goalies seem to forget the basic premise, which is...
RVH is fundamentally a blocking position. Establish it. Hold it. React from it.
It's really just a matter of understanding. I have young adult/teenage daughters. They are wonderful. They are aggravating. My wife constantly tells me that the only reason I get so aggravated with them is that I was never a teenage girl, and that's why I'm annoyed. She encourages me (that's the word we'll officially use) to understand and accept that teenage girls are what they are. Apparently, or so I am told, the more I complicate that premise, the easier it is for a simple question like "Hi! How was school?" to become a full-blown family crisis.
So the next time a goalie gives up an unfortunate goal while in Reverse-VH, remember that RVH is like a teenage daughter. It only seems like it causes one crisis after another. Really, it's just misunderstood.