In shootouts, goalies left to their own devices
(Editor's note: In Part III of our shootout series, Scott Burnside takes a look at what the goaltender's take is on the shootout.)
If there's a book to be written on shootouts from the goaltenders' perspective, it might be entitled "Zen and The Art of Crease Maintenance." And if such a book becomes a Hollywood movie, the theme song might well be "Patience."
"I like to come out, but not too far," Nashville netminder Tomas Vokoun explained. "Usually what happens is, if the goalie moves first, it's a goal. If you out-wait him, it's a save. And don't go for the fake."
"It's all about processing information," said Vokoun, who has been stellar, stopping seven of nine shootout shots in leading the Predators to a 3-1 shootout record.
"The main thing for a goalie is you can't think too much," added Washington netminder Kolzig said.
For instance, goalies might watch a shooter in the highlight clips use the same move several times and then assume he'll do the same, only to find he's changed it up.
"You can feel pretty foolish," he said.
Kolzig recalled facing Tampa Bay star Vincent Lecavalier for the third time this season. The first two times, Lecavalier used the same move. "And I knew he knew I knew he'd used the same move," Kolzig said. "I think it really screwed him up."
Needless to say Lecavalier was denied by Kolzig that night.
Kolzig's thought process must be bang-on as he's stopped 19 of the league-leading 26 shootout shots he's faced.
Was he angry with the Marek Malik goal in which the big Rangers defenseman shot between his legs to end the season's longest shootout competition? Heck no. It was the one before, a goal by Jason Strudwick that still has Kolzig seething.
"You've got to give Malik credit for having the balls to try a move like that," Kolzig said.
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Former NHL netminder Jeff Reece, now assistant coach and goaltending consultant in Tampa, said the Bolts have tried to incorporate the shootout into the team's preparation.
"Obviously, it's something that we work on more in practice. It's fun for the goalies and it's fun for the players," Reece said.
Just as shooters will try and develop a book on goalies they face, Reece said they will discuss before games tendencies shooters might have. Do they use the deke as their first weapon? Do they like to go high?
"Some guys, you don't know what they're going to do," Reece said. "The only thing we've got to be careful about is that they're not over-thinking things. It's still a reaction game."
Why do goalies have such an advantage?
A lot can happen between the moment a shooter touches the puck at center and arrives at the net. A shooter can lose control of the puck, the puck can start to roll, the shooter may change his mind based on what he sees. One night, Jaromir Jagr's stick broke in two as he went to shoot. Stuff happens.
"They shouldn't be seeing a ton of net if the goalie's playing it properly," Reece said.
As much as goalies would like to have a sense of what a shooter might do, the sheer number of potential shooters makes it much more difficult than getting a book on goaltenders' habits.
"I'd love to have a book on these guys, but you haven't faced enough of them to get a good idea," said New York Islanders netminder Rick DiPietro, who has stopped 14 of the 20 shootout shots he's faced. "Got a chance to see Sidney Crosby in a shootout vs. Montreal, and you start thinking he's going to backhand and you leave your five-hole open and he beats you five-hole.
"These guys are too good to try and guess and play to a specific move. You've got to try not to make the first move and react to whatever they throw at you. That's tough a lot of the times, but it's what you've got to do, try to get your body in front of as many of them as you can."
While shooters get to hang out at the bench while awaiting the call for the shootout, goalies, as is often the case, are left to their own devices.
"You just try and catch your breath, relax a little bit, calm down. It's an exciting time and the crowd's usually going pretty crazy," DiPietro said. "The spotlight's on you as a goaltender. It's a big spot, and at the end of the year, you're going to look back and those extra points you get in the shootout could be big in making the playoffs and not making the playoffs, so it's definitely a huge part of the game.
"You just try and refocus yourself. Picture yourself making some saves and winning the game and just a lot of positive stuff and hopefully it carries over to the shootout."
The mental aspect of the game is crucial for the netminder, not only as it applies to their own heads, but the heads of the shooters, as well.
Goaltenders that are successful at shootouts can seem larger, more imposing, to the shooters they face. The more times a goaltender is successful, the more a player is likely to think about the challenge in front of him and over-think the shot.
"You have to know you're good at breakaways," Vokoun said.
A lot of guys are good in practice, he said. But have 18,000 people screaming at them and, well, they're not so good, especially if they're going against a hot goaltender.
"When they know you're good, they know it's going to be tough," Vokoun explained. "If you're scared, you're probably going to lose. You just say, 'I don't care, I'm going to stop them.' You have to believe that, in that moment, no matter who's going to shoot it, you're going to stop it."
Not that Vokoun is any stranger to shootout pressure.
At the 2004 World Championships, Vokoun's heavily favored Czech Republic team was ousted by the U.S. in the quarterfinals. Last spring, Vokoun was sensational as the Czechs defeated the U.S. in the quarterfinals en route to a world championship.
At the NHL level, Vokoun figures that after 60 minutes of regulation and five minutes of overtime, the shootout isn't something to get too worked up about.
"It's like a freebie," he said. "It's different than international hockey."
Scott Burnside is an NHL writer for ESPN.com.