2013 NHL Stanley Cup Final - Game One

After the first period of Game 2, the Boston Bruins must’ve filed into the dressing room, plunked down in their stalls and exhaled a sigh of relief like a tornado had cruised through their town yet somehow skipped their neighborhood (fittingly, an actual tornado had done something similar during the first game). They had been outshot by a whopping margin, 19-4, but only found themselves down a goal thanks to the splendiferous goaltending of one of the league’s best, Tuukka Rask (“Two u’s, two k’s, two points,” as Bruins’ announcer Jack Edwards likes to say in the regular season).

As the Bruins emerged from their storm cellar to play the second period, something started to happen. The clouds thinned and parted a bit, and the play started to shift. The Bruins out-shot the Blackhawks 8-4, 8-5, and 8-6 respectively in the 2nd, 3rd, and overtime period, and eventually left the state of Illinois with a satisfying split.

If Generic Goalie A is in net for Boston, that likely doesn’t happen.

I have no idea if the phenomenon I’m about to describe happened to Chicago, because speculating on the mental state of an entire hockey club from my desk in another country is borderline ridiculous, but it did cross my mind when watching: Tuukka Rask might’ve “stopped” some shots in 2nd, 3rd and OT by discouraging players from ever taking them with saves earlier in the game.

That wouldn’t be what a coach would like to see from his troops, of course. But as a player facing a hot goalie, there’s few more helpless feelings than actually listening to your coach telling you to “shoot everything,” which leaves you in the position of firing an unscreened wrist shot from 50 feet out because once in 2007 some NHL goalie let one of those in (it was Vesa Toskala) so anything can happen. You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take, you guys.

(For some insane reason coaches will absolutely never say “that goalie is exceptional, even in a league of exceptional players, and wasting possession on a low percentage shot is garbage. We’re putting the puck in a jump ball situation when we’ve already got it. Hold on to the thing until you can get a quality look.”)

The good news is, players, particularly offensive ones, don’t always listen to coaches’ advice. Claude Julien and Joel Quenneville were both defensemen who didn’t make their livings scoring goals. While I’m sure their players greatly respect them, their hockey knowledge and their authority, there’s zero chance Patrick Kane is concerned about his coach’s opinion on how to get frozen vulcanized rubber behind a line in a cage. He has done that his entire life, and I’m guessing “throw low percentage shots on a hot goalie” is about Optional L on his mental list. Option R when the other goalie is otherworldly and pushing past that.

So what happens to guys is that they become afraid to shoot. Well, “afraid” is the wrong word; “hesitant” is probably more accurate. When everything you did for 20 minutes results in one piddly goal on 19 shots, you come to believe that pulling the trigger from anywhere above the tops of the circles is a complete waste of time. So you do hold on, contrary to your coach’s advice, and you do look for that back-door tap-in play, and you do look to beat just one more player, you do look forOH GOD TURNOVER.

A hot goalie ends up stopping shots before they happen, like hockey’s version on Minority Report.

In the final 56-plus minutes of the game, the Blackhawks – with Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Patrick Sharp, Marian Hossa and all the rest of the crew – managed just 15 shots on Tuukka Rask. I have no idea how much of that had to do with the frustration of being stymied in the first period, and how much was just a result of Boston making corrections. But I do know that Hot Goalie Hesitance has limited my output in the past, and could very well have done the same to some of Chicago’s offensive forwards.

Comments (8)

  1. It seems like this is exactly how Boston beat the Penguins. The Pens got frustrated and started looking for prettier and prettier passes/shots. The prettier the pass, the better the chance there will be a turnover, and the rest is history. The playoffs aren’t about pretty goals and spectacular passes. Teams need to just throw it at the net and look for deflections and rebounds with tons of traffic up front.

  2. H.G.H. is one hell of a drug

    • Ah, the sweet sound of jealousy…

      I’m pretty sure a guy on HGH or other PEDs would have a lot more than 170lbs on a 6’3 frame…

      • I think someone may have missed the part in the article about Hot Goalie Hesitance. You know… HGH. It’s funny, no?

      • That was actually not the sweet sound of jealousy, but the sweet sound of a joke flying right over your head.

  3. This is somewhat similar to when a player in a slump is “squeezing the stick too tight”. Instead of just playing, they are constantly looking, waiting, trying for the perfect chance, which rarely ever come.

  4. I’m a lifelong defenseman who started playing goal a few years ago just for fun so take this within the right context (I.e., I know a lot more about preventing goals than causing them), but when facing a hot goalie I advocate getting everything to the net…bodies, picks, sticks, the organ player – whatever. He’s playing great so you’re probably not going to beat him clean, but (as seen with the Shaw OT winner in game 1) even hot goalies have trouble with screened double deflections. Stop trying to be pretty and just do whatever you can to get tips, screens, rebounds, etc. I’m not advocating the 50 foot unscreened shot, but in terms of altering strategy to get pucks and traffic there from any and all angles, yeah, that makes a lot of sense to me.

  5. The hesitance to shoot, over-passing, over-thinking that you describe is exactly WHY coaches are so fond of the “shoot fromt anywhere” axiom. Coaches realize that upon being stymied by a hot goaltender the instant reaction of players is to shoot less, because they figure that anything but an ultra-prime look against a hot goalie is useless. So by encouraging players to shoot from anywhere the coaches are really just hoping that the players will continue to take the shots they normally take instead of passing up good looks to make the extra pass or try to find an even better look. The coach isn’t really trying to get his players taking 60 foot wrist shots from the sideboards (at least the good ones aren’t) he is just trying to prevent his players from falling into exactly the trap you described where the goalie stops the shot without it ever being taken.

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