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Saturday, August 7, 2010

Between the Pipes: The Evolution of Modern Day Goaltending - Part 2

The technically and fundamentally sound keeper that epitomizes present day goaltending and can structurally be considered the anti-Richter is Henrik Lundqvist. 

Lundqvist is listed at 6’1” and 195lbs and is the definition of technique and textbook saves when it comes to modern day butterfly goaltending. He uses his butterfly slides perfectly and is arguably one of the greatest goaltenders in the game when it comes to breakaways and shots down low in the slot.
Hank's size allows him to have a very wide stance (see right)that resides deep in the net, a stance he wouldn't get away with if he were 5'9. 

Because Lundqvist is indeed a butterfly goaltender, he mainly focuses on his positioning. You will rarely see him out of position or having to make those desperation saves of yesterday. Lundqvist knows which type of save to make for every shot he sees, whether it be a full butterfly save, a blocking butterfly save on a tip play, a reaction save, etc. This differs from Richter, who mostly relied on his reaction time to make a save. 

All of this is due to the fact that today’s goaltenders are much more cognizant of the second, third, and fourth shots after the original save. Whether it is Lundqvist, M.A. Fleury, Michael Leighton, Roberto Luongo, Ilya Bryzgalov, or Antti Niemi, they are always focused on rebound placement. 

Rebound placement has been emphasized in coaching more frequently because of the more radical use of butterfly style goaltending. These goalies use flat style pads that contain variations of high density foams. These flat style pads allow goaltenders to place their rebounds in the corners on all shots if the play is made appropriately. 

When Richter was at the height of his career he was still using very thick, bulky pads (see left) that were there more for protection than to help improve this ability. Currently goaltenders are taught to use their pads and sticks to angle shots to the corners and away from the middle of the ice. Skaters have always been taught from the time they pick up a stick to never put the puck in the middle of the defensive zone, but now in Henrik’s era, goaltenders too have mastered keeping the puck out of the middle. 

Over the past 27 years the leading goaltenders Save Percentage has increased over 3 points and the number of saves by the NHL saves leader has increased from 1596 saves by Greg Millen in the 1983-1984 season to 2,047 saves by Craig Anderson in the 2009-2010 season. This helps show that goaltenders today are facing a higher number of shots, which forces them to be more cognizant of their rebounds. 

Personally I believe that today’s goaltenders are more aware of the situations that they are going to encounter and are better coached and prepared for each game. Now I am not saying they are better conditioned, as I believe Mike Richter was one of the Rangers hardest working players in franchise history, however I do believe that Lundqvist is better prepared for the speed and accuracy of today's opponents. 

Overall today’s game is much faster, cleaner, and more enjoyable to watch and this accounts for goaltending as well. Watching present day goaltenders move side to side with such ease and maintaining such fluid motions is extremely beautiful. No matter how you slice it, I do believe the goaltenders of today are better athletes and better goaltenders than that of yesteryear, however Mike Richter will still go down in my heart as one of the best goaltenders of all time considering he battled against the elements day in and day out to bring us the Stanley Cup. " 

Thanks Eric, for contributing to this piece. Hopefully MSG will keep playing these "old games" to keep the memory alive. With the evolution of the game and with it the evolution of goaltending styles, we may never see another Mike Richter-esque goalie again. Hopefully we will still see a few more Stanley Cup banners raised to the Garden roof and with it, the goalies who helped us to get there.