Part of the series on the Perils of Modern Goaltending.
In the modern era of goaltending, it seems as though goalies and goalie coaches are far more concerned with how a goalie looks rather than if they kept the puck out of the net or not. Likewise, if a goalie does allow a goal, it again seems important that they were in a good "fundamental" position while the puck entered the cage.
The goalies and goalie coaches of today seem too quick to label as "floppers" their counterparts who do not conform to the overly technical and mechanical ways being taught far too much today. OK, so maybe these "flopping" goalies don't look great while they make saves, but why are looks so important when the job description is to prevent the other team from scoring?
Tim Thomas known for being "unorthodox" yet highly effective.
So are these goalies floppers or are they actually reading the play well, identifying when they are in desperation, and then battling and doing whatever it takes to keep the other team from scoring?
If there is anything that is truly lacking in today's goalies, in general, it is the ability to read the play. The modern era of goalies, and certainly the majority of goalie coaches out there, need to take from their predecessors the abilities of reading shots off the stick, reading the play developing in front of them, and reading and understanding when they are in desperation.
The NHL goalies that come to mind, who have been criticized for their "style" or lack there of by the hockey media and by the goalie community, as being floppers yet who have been so amazingly successful are Dominik Hasek, Martin Brodeur, and Tim Thomas. Adjectives such as unorthodox, old school, throw back, and flopping have all been associated with these goalies. The negative connotations directed at these goalies have lead to the sweeping notion in the goalie world that these "styles" should not be emulated.
We often mock what we don't understand. Instead of looking deeper into the success of these goalies and perhaps learning more about the parts of their game others should adapt, the majority among goalies have brushed off their success.
So instead of negatively labeling goalies who seem unorthodox, instead study them harder and here is what you may find. These goalies read the play and they understand that they are in desperation and then they battle, use their athleticism, and they do whatever it takes to keep the puck out of the net. If that means dive, split, roll, stack, or whatever, they will do it. Just giving pure extra effort versus worrying about your hair being in place or your pad color, is often all it takes to make an additional save here and there that over time wins more games and improves statistics.
Dominik Hasek doing whatever it takes to keep the puck out.
The new era goalie textbook does not have an answer to complete desperation situations, instead the modern fundamentals seem to fully ignore that desperation ever exists. I suppose that goalies and coaches who subscribe to this modern notion of no desperation believe that if you read the play well enough that a goalie should never be in desperation. Well, that is nice in theory but impossible in practice. Additionally, the notion is ironic, because the biggest knock on the modern "style" is that goalies are not reading the play well at all, so they are often more desperate than before. Also, if Hasek, Thomas, and Brodeur find/found themselves in desperation, then I think every goalie on the planet will find themselves in that situation.
So what should a goalie see when studying Hasek, Thomas, and Brodeur and other so called unorthodox goalies? Hasek was far more fundamentally solid on the initial shot than anyone ever gave him credit for. He was incredibly sound fundamentally on the first shot. For the rebound, however, Hasek's fundamental play went out the window and he simply did whatever it took to fill the net and to make the save. No one before or since Hasek has had such an amazing sense of where the net was behind them, where the holes existed, and where the opposing player was going to go to try to score. In this way, his play reading was perhaps the best of all time and no one has been as great with using whatever they have at their disposal to get between the goal line and the puck.
In studying Thomas, what is clear to me is that he is not fundamentally sound on the first shot like Hasek was. However, what Thomas does do perhaps better than another goalie in the NHL is that he is in the very best position BEFORE the shot and he recovers back to his feet as well or better than anyone in the game today. While Thomas has been criticized for being overly aggressive, the fact is that when he is on, he makes the first save. So other goalies are in position for the possible rebound, but they are so deep that they allow more first shots than does/did Thomas. This "future thinking" of the modern goalie is a bit baffling, because if you don't stop the first shot, then the second one doesn't exist. In any event, because Thomas plays to stop the first shot, then he is out of position on rebounds and is thus forced into desperation more often. Well, it is effective and has been through two Vezina Trophies and a Stanley Cup, and a Conn Smyth MVP award. Plus, part of his solid first save and second save success is that while others are sliding on their pads, Thomas is getting to his feet. Again, even on second chances, Thomas is at a better starting position, filling more net than are is colleagues. Bottom line is that with Thomas, I have found that once the goalie is in a great pre-shot position, out and challenging and on the feet, then it almost doesn't matter what save selection you use on the shot that you are going to make the save, at least if you are Timmy T.
With Martin Brodeur, his secrets are not as clear cut to me. Broduer has had such huge success for such a long time that it is easy to see that his game, like that of Patrick Roy, has evolved over time. While Brodeur does not use the modern fundamental text book moves of most modern NHL goalies, such as power pushes and leg loads/VH/Kneel (or whatever you want to call it), but instead stands up on the post a lot, uses two pad stacks, and has a very narrow full butterfly that he makes work for him, MB30 is still keeping the puck out of the net consistently. Like Hasek, he reads the play better than mostly everyone in the league and like Thomas he is on his feet in the best possible position prior to shots. So maybe with Brodeur it is a combination of play reading, pre-shot positioning, and understanding desperation and battling to make saves at all costs. Whatever it is, Brodeur is a Hall of Famer and has solidified himself as one of the best to ever play.
Martin Brodeur stacking to stop pucks in tight.
All in all, goalies who have not conformed to the group think of the modern era of goaltending and the "new" fundamentals seem to receive ridicule from the herd because they don't look like everybody else. Ironically, those who are following the pack have not shown to be able to out perform these rogue netminders, who show their world class athleticism and who aren't afraid to look desperate when they are desperate. Instead of pointing out that these guys have a style that is out of place, others should note that being different may be just the thing that is separating them from the pack. Laslty, the goalies in the herd have become highly predictable, where the rogues keep their opponents thinking making these goalies an even bigger challenge to score on.