Washington Capitals: Anatomy of a 90-Foot Goal (Or Three)

Goalies always jump to conclusions.

My defense has this guy.

My skate is definitely against the post.

I’m definitely not getting traded to Colorado.

The puck is definitely in my glove.

This guy is just trying to dump it in.

It’s this last assumption that routinely gets goalies time on the “Not Top-Ten Plays” list.  A rushing puck carrier gains the red line, winds up to seemingly fire the puck hard around the boards and, at the last second, redirects his aim towards the net. Sometimes it’s intentional; sometimes the seams in the boards/glass/other players do it for him.

Enter ‘Awkward, confused goalie with a red light behind him.’

Unfortunately for the Caps, this has happened to three different red-sweatered goalies over the last seven games; once each to Michal Neuvirth, Tomas Vokoun and Braden Holtby. Is there something about the Caps’ defensive system or strategy that is leading to these type of goals, or is it just plain horrible luck? First, let’s take a look at where the change of direction occurs.

Read on.


Give me a ping, Vasili. One ping only, please.

On his goal against Neuvy, Mikael Samuelsson’s position on the ice (well outside the blue line, along the boards) and lack of wind-up usually ends up in a simple corner dump. Having an attacking player wide along the far boards would tip a goalie that the intent is for the puck to head in that direction. While you can’t see it from this still, Neuvy has already taken a small step towards the boards to his left to stop the puck behind him. It’s not clear whether Samuelsson’s intent was a shot on goal, or simply a misdirection dump into the far side, but the puck was definitely not dumped where Neuvy expected it to be. With his balance directed that way, the sudden change in direction of the now-shot freezes Neuvirth. One post later, Neuvy looks bad.

Next up, Tomas Vokoun vs Karl Alzner-deflected Dustin Byfuglien bullet.


Follow the bouncing biscuit…

This play starts out innocently enough, as Byfuglien powers out of his own end, hitting his stride just before center ice. At this time, Vokoun knows a couple things. First, Winnipeg is on the power play. Second, there are three hard-charging forwards attacking the zone. Third, Byfuglien is taking a slap shot. Once again, no one knows whether it’s Byfuglien’s intent to put the puck on net, but the attackers have aided in moving John Carlson and Alzner back a few steps. Like Neuvy, Vokoun assumes this is a hard dump in. Unlike Neuvy, things take a turn about 4 feet inside the blue line.

When Buff’s rising shot strikes Alzner, it dives. Hard. About a yard from the top of the Washington goal crease, the puck bounces right over Vokoun’s outstretched pad and glove. Vokoun clearly wasn’t just hanging out on top of his crease, waiting. He was already turning to face the corner to his right, where he thought the puck was heading. The deflection essentially creates a new shot, with no warning or wind-up, directly from Alzner’s leg. At over 90mph. Bouncing. Unless Vokoun was 5’ further out expecting a direct shot on goal, this is a ridiculously hard save. Tie game.

Now we look at the last of the three moon-shot goals: the Joe Pavelski tip of Dan Boyle’s best Byfuglien impression.

sj1    sj2

Not even Ozzie Smith coulda gotten to this one…

This play starts out eerily similar to Byfuglien’s bouncer.  As San Jose gathers some speed through the neutral zone, Washington backs up a bit.  This looks very much like a timing play, with two Sharks heading full speed across the blue line and into the offensive zone when Boyle pulls up and cranks it. Once again, the puck is in clear view of Braden Holtby, as there is a nice gap between the defense.

This time (and you have to think this wasn’t intentional, but it sure looked like it), Little Joe stuck his stick out and deflected the rising shot straight down. You can see the puck bounce directly between Alzner and Carlson and immediately it goes all spitball on Holtby; diving and flipping. Once again, the Caps’ goalie is caught assuming the puck is headed for the corner and has already begun to turn in that direction. The sudden change in trajectory gets Holtby scrambling. The puck is still rising off the bounce as it catches Braden’s honest attempt with his glove and trickles home. If Holtby isn’t assuming the dump, the bouncer likely would have caught him in the upper chest and died there.

So what’s the common denominator here? If you said ‘red Capitals jersey,’ shame. If you chose ‘preliminary movement of the goalie,’ you’re spot on. This Caps system asks the goalie to move out and slow pucks on the dump in more than in the past, allowing the defense to play precise positioning instead of having to follow the hard-around puck and take on a forechecker with speed. This activation also leaves goalies in a position to get beat on altered-trajectory shots (whether the shooter himself or an obstacle causes the altering). It’s also about reaction time… these goalies need to wait another second longer before committing to the dump in. Hopefully Coach Kolzig (sorry, had to write that) can give this goalie tandem some hints on how to do their job without leaving the net open to abuse.

You know, when he’s not busy picking on the captain…