Let’s do that hockey

Ask a goalie: Excuse me sir, your goalie is behind the net and appears to be lost

As we are all well aware, the Flyers are not very good and very difficult to watch. There are literal months left of watching this version of this terrible hockey team until next year’s version of terrible (by design?) hockey team.

So, we’re going to need reasons to watch and maintain our sanity as we do so. If we’re going to subject ourselves to watching, we may as well understand what we are watching as acutely as possible. The purpose of these posts is to help educate newer fans or fans who may not be as well versed in the finer points of hockey play in hopes that you will love the sport even more. Additionally, if you’ve already been around the game for awhile, these posts will give you hyper specific reasons to be mad at the Flyers, further fueling your self-imposed schadenfreude and continuing the infinite time loop of pain that is Flyers fandom.

Should be fun!

I put out #askAgoalie to see if anyone would like a piece of the dark arts that is goaltending explained. @GeoFitz4 asked this great question:

Before we unpack this, let’s explain what advantages there are for the goalie to leave the net and play the puck in the first place.

The goalie will venture behind the net when the puck is dumped in by the opposition for a line change, a clear, or wrapped around/rimmed to create offense on the opposite side of the ice.

It can be immensely convenient and advantageous if your goalie can do this well. Playing the puck as a goalie is very difficult and some can do it while some simply cannot. Quite frankly, it’s a situation that is very easy to make a mistake that almost always results in minimally a shot on goal or the direct cause of a goal being score against you. It’s a difficult enough of a skill that some goalies want nothing to do with it. Even more dangerous are goalies who think they’re good at it when they are not.

To answer the question, this is what this interaction between a skater and goalie is supposed to look like this:


When this works well, communication between the two players will be crystal clear. The goalie will say things like “TIME” indicating the skater has no one immediately attacking them so they can pick up the puck with ease, or conversely “MAN ON” when there’s someone right on top of the skater. In the later situation, the goalie will often play the puck by making a pass before their teammate and opposing player reach them. Point being is that if your goalie is going to come out, they are supposed to make the situation better by leaving the puck as easily retrievable as possible or by clearing or making a pass to start the puck the other way.

In any case, I really like how Alex Nedelijkovic plays the puck because he is really efficient, doesn’t take unnecessary risks, and is a world-class communicator. Watch the video again, before the skater is within 10 feet of the puck, Nedelijkovic has already established eye-contact and you can even see him motioning with his glove to “pump the breaks” as his skater has “TIME” to pick up the puck and skate up ice.

This particular video is a little different than the question asked because there is no attacker. But it’s a perfect example of how this exchange is supposed to happen so much so that the skater is able to pick up the puck with ease, in-stride, and even is able to pick his head up looking down ice to make a play before he makes his final turn around the net.

All of this is possible because of communication that is already worked out beforehand to establish levels of trust between the goalie and skater. Players know who can do what and everyone definitely knows if their goalie can or cannot play the puck. Goalies like Nedelijkovic, Tristan Jarry, and Mike Smith have the trust of their teammates and they can play these situations differently than goalies who are not as comfortable or as good at playing the puck. Historically, when you have a Ron Hextall or Martin Brodeur guys wouldn’t even have to skate all the way back and could even get themselves open for a breakout pass. Again, this is a huge luxury versus having someone like Auturs Irbe or Dominik Hasek back there where if you’re their teammate, you know that you have to skate all the way back and probably even take a hit to go retrieve that puck.

To answer the original question more accurately, this is what this exchange looks like when there is an attacker:


Karel Vejmelka actually handles this situation fairly well. The Flyers do a good job of dumping the puck in and applying pressure on both sides(this is not a typo). Vejmelka is correct to come out to play the puck too slow this play down even if it’s slower for a literal second or two. When you watch it again, you will see that there is a fraction of a second where Vejmelka stops the puck, looks up, and listens for some type of direction.

Again, communication is everything in these situations and that’s when our former sweet baby boy, Shayne Gosistbehere knows there is someone skating right with him so it would be a mistake for him to instruct Vejmelka to “LEAVE IT!” In this fraction of a second, Ghost is yelling “PLAY IT!” Vejmelka puts his head back down and fires the puck up the wall as safely as possible.

Even though this situation results in a turnover and a direct shot on net, it’s still played correctly because if you’re going to turn the puck over, make sure you turn it over as far away from your net as possible. In the time it takes the puck to wrap around the boards to where it is eventually intercepted and turned into a shot, Vejmelka has enough time to re-enter his crease and square himself for what turns into a low percentage shot on net.

There are many other parts to these situations for each position and team but this should better illustrate the very many things that are happening in a 1 or 2 second window of play.

Hopefully you found this enjoyable and to be informative! Goaltending really isn’t this alien fourth dimension stuff that stupefies people as much as it does. You just have to know what to look for.

So, keep your goalie questions coming! Tag me @hockeypanda and #askAgoalie for goalie curiosities, and #How2Hockey for any other hockey playing inquiries and I’ll do my best to break it down.