Jamie Sabau/NHLI via Getty Images)

Man, I suck at thoughts posts lately.  I started writing one, and then a hit a section on the goaltenders and things just spiraled out of control.  So, this post is about the goalies now. This is really more Hank focused than Pavelec, but I wanted to touch on him, as well.  I hope you enjoy.

First up, Ondrej Pavelec, who is exactly who I thought he would be.  Obviously, he has underperformed in a very limited sample size so far, but that isn’t really what I’m talking about. There was a play last night that really stood out for me.  In the third period, the ‘Yotes made a nifty little passing play that ended with Derek Stepan narrowly missing an open net to Pavelec’s glove side.  Pavelec tracked the first pass, but then, the second pass back door caught him flat footed and he kind of flailed from about 4 feet away from the puck.  Hank may not have gotten to the pass, but his body connection and puck tracking would have stayed engaged for the entire play.  Pavelec knew he was beat and gave up.

Pavelec is a very talented goaltender, from a purely athletic standpoint, but this was my problem with the signing from the beginning.  He hasn’t shown any sign of a willingness to evolve his style and take a step forward with his focus and commitment on the play.  It’s a frustrating thing to watch after several seasons of talented goaltenders taking big steps forward.

Now, onto Hank.  I want to preface this with the fact that this section of analysis exists as an explanation for his struggles, not an excuse for them.  Lundqvist has to be better, and correcting these issues is a great first step.  I’m just trying to add some context to situations that can seem odd to those who have watched Hank for years.

One of his biggest issues thus far has been the bad angle and other soft-type goals.  His LD (low-danger) save% of 97.5% currently ranks 19th in the league (min 200 minutes).  The cause of this also goes hand-in-hand with his atrocious 86.49% MD (medium danger) save%.  Now, we all know that all shots are not created equally.  However, there is a common thread running through Hank’s struggles: lateral options.  The “royal road” theory is a big piece of this, but it also manifests itself through same-side passes from behind the net to a player in front.

So, what exactly is happening here? From a fundamental perspective, on an odd-man rush, it is the responsibility of the goaltender to ensure the shooter doesn’t score on the initial shot.  The pass falls to either the defender playing the odd-man rush, or in the case of a trailer, the back-checking defender.  What often happens, though, is that you make an assessment that the more attractive play to the puck carrier is, in fact, the pass.  When this happens, the goaltender will mentally anticipate that the pass in the most likely option, and position themselves to cover that lateral ground.  Long way of saying “cheating” or “hedging”.

When there is a good flow of communication between the goaltender and his defenders, it can create the opportune time for a “big save”, as casual fans understand it.  It also manifests itself when communication fails.  When the goaltender doesn’t trust that his defender will adequately cover the pass, even when the shot is viable, the goaltender will try to cover as many options as possible through his positioning, including potential trailers.  Many times, the result of this is not being adequately positioned to deal with any of the options.  Think about a batter caught between a fastball and a breaking ball, because their timing is unsure of what is coming.

Same thing on behind-the-net passes.  When there is a room for a shooter to take a quick step toward the front of the net for a side-angle shot, or an option in front, it creates a similar positional dynamic.  When the goaltender trusts that the space will be taken away from the puck carrier, he will divert a little more attention to the net-front option, even though that is the defender’s responsibility.  Again, conversely, when you don’t trust that the player is covered, the goaltender will lean away from the post to give themselves a truer angle to the net-front threat, and neglect the puck carrier.  If he gets a little too much space, boom.  Bad angle goal.

This is a logical extension of Hank’s current statistical profile.  His HD (high danger) save% is 86.96%, good for 9th in the NHL. These plays tend to happen in situations where you are simply reacting, rather than puck-movement plays with multiple attack options.  This tells me that Hank’s physical tools aren’t massively eroding, but that his tactical game plan has been compromised by his inability to stay disciplined to his designated threat.  Conversely, he could be hedging not because he doesn’t trust his defenders, but that he doesn’t trust his own speed at this stage of his career.  This is certainly possible, but it doesn’t really match up with the eye test.  He doesn’t look any slower to me out there, he just looks less decisive.

So, what does he do about this problem? Well, assuming my theory is accurate, there is a larger, team-wide course correction that needs to take place.  The defensive system either needs to be executed better or adjusted.  On an individual basis, Hank needs to focus only on what he can control.  With a defective defensive zone scheme, he is going to let in goals on lateral plays he has no chance on.  It’s a fact of a flawed roster.  However, if he can focus on what he is responsible for and make the saves that he needs to make, the defense can adjust around him.  It’s not going to solve the issue of giving up goals at an unacceptable rate, that is on the other 21 guys on the roster, as long as Hank is doing what he able to do.  However, it is a big first step in creating a more stable environment to begin systemic changes to the coverage schemes the team employs and hopefully, improve the defensive output, as a whole.

*all goaltender stats are 5v5 and via Corsica Hockey

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