Interview with independent goalie scout Justin Goldman: Vancouver Canucks goaltender Roberto Luongo scouting report, Pekka Rinne, Vezina outlook, Tim Thomas, late SJ goalie coach Warren Strelow’s lasting impact, Evgeni Nabokov vs Antti Niemi

By Jon Swenson - Last updated: Saturday, May 14, 2011 - Save & Share - One Comment

Vancouver Canucks goaltender Roberto Luongo scouting report

Height: 6-3, Weight: 205, Age: 32
Catches: Left, Shoots: Left

2011 WCF vs SAN JOSE: begins Sunday 5PM.
2011 WCSF vs NASHVILLE: 6GP, 4-2, 1SO, 1.67GAA, .929SV%
2011 WCQF vs CHICAGO: 7GP, 4-3, 1SO, 3.88GAA, .881SV%
2011 REGULAR SEASON: 60GP, 38-15-7, 4SO, 2.11GAA, .928SV%

Independent goalie scout and Goalie Guild founder Justin Goldman has gained a significant profile in the goaltending community. A member of the PHWA, Goldman also created the Goalie Guild independent goaltending scouting service to analyze and examine goaltenders with a fresh outlook. It was a scouting service used by the San Jose Sharks to gain information on Jonathan Quick in the first round of the playoffs. A regular analyst on Colorado radio, Justin Goldman has also contributed to and has been a guest on several of the top hockey podcasts online to discuss goaltending topics.

In an interview with Sharkspage, Justin Goldman offered a Roberto Luongo scouting report of strengths and weaknesses prior to the first game of the Western Conference Final series that begins Sunday. Goldman also discussed different technical terms and approaches used by goaltending coaches and schools today, described Nashville Predators goaltender Pekka Rinne at length and offered a comparison between his style and that of Anaheim Ducks goaltender Jonas Hiller, discussed late San Jose Sharks goaltending coach Warren Strelow’s lasting impact on the game, compared Evgeni Nabokov and Antti Niemi, and described the step foward Detroit Red Wings goaltender Jimmy Howard took this year among other topics.


[Q] Reading about some of the changes Roberto Luongo made at the start of this season, when he switched goaltending coaches from Ian Clark to Rollie Melanson and started to play deeper in his own net, some of the technical goaltending terms and descriptions vary from team to team and coach to coach.

[A] I am one of those guys that really likes the simplified version of the position. I have had coaches where they are hardcore on angles and positioning, it overcomplicates the position when it doesn’t need to. I really liked the changes Melanson made to Luongo because it allowed him to simplify his game and take advantage of his size. Luongo is a big goaltender with really long legs, really long arms, he is a tall guy, and he doesn’t hunch over too much. So this year, he has utilized his size much more effectively.

[Q] It seems like he is not forced to make as many spectacular, acrobatic saves as he did when he played farther out.

[A] That is the thing about having him stay deeper in his net. He is closer to his posts, so on backdoor plays or on line rushes, 3-on-2′s, he is not forced to cover as much space. The less a goaltender moves and the less his feet move, the easier it is for him to square up and set his feet for a shot, thus absorbing more pucks. If you ever see a goaltender push out to the top of his crease, but he is not 100% completely still, or if the puck comes to him while he is still moving, he is probably going to give up a big or bad rebound because his feet aren’t set. That is the thing about staying deeper. If you are staying deeper, you are moving less. So when a shot is fired and your feet are fully set, you are able to absorb it better and place the rebound where you want to place it.

[Q] Pekka Rinne, it is unusual how under the radar he played until he was a Vezina nominee along with Luongo and Tim Thomas this season, he is so technical but he still has that size and that athleticism, and determination to not give up on a play. How would you compare the 6-foot-3, 217-pound Luongo with the 6-foot-4, 207-pound Pekka Rinne after seeing them battle head-to-head in the second round? It was a great opportunity to evaluate both together.

[A] For both goaltenders, size is a huge advantage. But the biggest advantage Rinne has over Luongo is first off, his compete level is through the roof. You look at two goaltenders right now that have visibly noticable compete levels, Tim Thomas is one, Rinne is the other. Thomas looks to me like he is hooked up to a battery charger, over-amplified. He has so much energy, he is explosive, competitive. He is always ready. He always has that fierce focus. Rinne is the same way. He has a really, really high energy level. The other thing about Rinne that is an advantage, but one that he still needs to moderate, is like you said that athleticism. He has the ability to drop into the butterfly, and instantly pop right back up again. He is much quicker at doing those sort of things than Luongo. Once Luongo is down, it takes him awhile to get up. Luongo moves a little bit slower. Rinne is kind of like Tim Thomas in the sense that he is extremely over-amplified. He has got a ton of energy, but he still has to work at containing that energy, knowing when to use it and when to harness it and hold back. Conserving his energy a little bit will go a long way in making him more positionally sound.

[Q] I noticed with Thomas, I always kind of look at the face of the shooters when he makes a spectacular save. Sometimes you see a mouth open and just shock on their face. They have an empty net for a shot and then all of a sudden there is this guy flying by. Would you say that Roberto Luongo and Pekka Rinne are going to be runners up to Tim Thomas for the Vezina Trophy this year?

[A] I think so. At the end of the day, even though voting is supposed to be based on the regular season, general managers are human beings. They are probably going to look at the playoffs and be slightly influenced. It is not supposed to count, but we have seen Thomas be almost the most consistent goalie in the playoffs. I think it will come into account when they make their final votes. Just because of the really flashy statistics, the save percentage (.938SV%), the fact that he was coming off the hip surgery, and being 38-years old. There are too many little things on Thomas’ side for him not to win it. I think they look at Luongo and note the team in front of him, the best team in the Western Conference. Rinne, I hope he gets second place votes because he doesn’t have the team in front of him, he doesn’t have the offense. He is probably more skilled than the two other goaltenders when it comes to technique and butterfly. I have a feeling Rinne is going to win a Vezina in the next couple of years.

[Q] Would you describe him as a technical goaltender? I always look at Jonas Hiller in Anaheim. Time after time after time, his technique was the same, extraordinarily consistent. I noticed a similar precision with Rinne, and in the second round against Vancouver he really demonstrated his ability to dominate in goal and keep Nashville in the series.

[A] I would say Hiller is a more static goaltender. Like you said, he is really consistent. Many times, he has the same exact technique regardless of the type of shot, so he relies more on positioning than reflexes. Part of that comes from his work with Francois Allaire. That comes into play, and that can get complicated because Allaire is known for teaching a blocking style. He teaches goalies to simplify their game and movements in all technical areas of the butterfly. I agree with a lot of that, but at the same time I am not a fan of exclusively blocking goaltenders. The big difference between Rinne and Hiller? Rinne is a dynamic goaltender. He doesn’t have one set way of using a butterfly to make a save. He will do whatever it takes to make the save in the way that makes him feel most comfortable. If he has to be a little desperate and make that last-second kick, or if he has to get his hands in front of his body to absorb a shot, which is one of his biggest strengths, he will do it.

[Q] He also has a pretty unconventional goaltending coach in Mitch Korn, do you think that has played into his style a little bit? I have read a lot about Mitch Korn’s innovative teaching on and off the ice.

[A] Mitch Korn and Francois Allaire are two of the best goalie coaches in the world, but they teach things differently. If you talk to a lot of goaltending coaches around the world, I think the way the position is starting to change now, as opposed to how it was maybe in the late 90′s, early 2000′s, is that back then everybody was really strict, almost robotic, butterfly. That is what made Giguere so successful. That was the more popular way of coaching goaltenders. Now what you are starting to see with guys like Rinne and elsewhere, goalies need to be more dynamic, they need to be able to have a good balance between knowing when to block a puck, and knowing when to react and make that glove save, make that kick save, or dive out in desperation. The best goalies in the NHL today are the ones that have that perfect balance of knowing when to use the positional blocking style and when to use the reactive, flashy, desperate style. Thomas is the perfect example of that. He is definitely a more reactive goalie, unconventional, but if he needs to make a routine butterfly save, he knows how to do it. He knows how to simplify.

[Q] I actually got to speak with (late San Jose Sharks goaltending coach) Warren Strelow a couple times. One Detroit regular season game, I think the Sharks won 7-2 and the goal horn kept going off while we were talking. He was a pioneer in the goaltending world. He was the goaltending coach under Herb Brooks for the U.S. Men’s Olympic team in 1980, he was established at the high school and college levels in Minnesota. He was the first goaltending coach in the NHL for the Washington Capitals. He worked with Vezina winner Martin Brodeur in New Jersey, and he worked with Evgeni Nabokov, Vezina winner Miikka Kiprusoff and Vesa Toskala in San Jose. Many credit Strelow with establishing the goaltending coach as a part of the game. What do you think of Strelow’s impact?

[A] I would agree with that. Like you said, Strelow is a pioneer. There are a lot of goaltending coaches out there, but very few had the impact Strelow had. He really (developed personal relationships) with his goaltenders. Strelow was the kind of guy players could get to know personally. He would put the work aside and talk to his goaltenders as individuals. I think a goaltender like Nabokov really learned a lot from Strelow, on the personal side as well as learning to deal with the pressure and all the mental components that play a huge role for the goaltending position.

[Q] Strelow talked about the goaltenders in the Sharks system. He described them at the time with more of a hybrid style than the strict stand-up or butterfly styles that were used in the past, and said the team was focused on maximizing what they did well and minimizing their weaknesses. It was a little confusing hearing all the different descriptions of Nabokov inside and outside of the Bay Area. Some described him as a stand-up goaltender. Strelow called him a hybrid goaltender, but even opponents noted his stand-up style and said that they shot pucks at his feet to try to create rebounds. How would you compare Evgeni Nabokov’s and Antti Niemi’s differing styles?

[A] The biggest visible difference between Nabokov and Niemi is their stance. It is wider with Niemi and much more narrow with Nabokov. Nabokov wasn’t a stand up goalie, he just kept his feet closer together. He had a very narrow stance when he was on his skates. He would stand more upright, and he wouldn’t have the wide flare that Niemi does. Niemi has a much wider stance, he is hunched over at the shoulders, and he holds his glove really low. There are a lot of real visible differences between Niemi and Nabokov, but I would say they were similar in the fact that they relied more on their positioning, and more on getting their hips and their chest behind the puck, and letting pucks come to them, as opposed to a more active goaltender like Rinne or Thomas that would reach out to grab or deflect pucks. Nabokov was a really good student of the Tretiak style of goaltending. Vladislav Tretiak taught that narrow stance, where you stand a little more upright and it is more effective to push laterally.

[Q] I think about Nabokov, and sometimes I think his mental focus and confidence waivered at times in the playoffs towards the end, a product of not just his play but the play of the team in front of him. That brings me back to Canucks goaltender Roberto Luongo. In the first round against Chicago he was pulled twice in a row, and then inserted into the lineup when backup Cory Schneider was pulled. Schneider was one of my favorite goaltending prospects, and he was pulled. Do you think if the Sharks can get to Luongo early, those kind of mental toughness and mental focus questions will come back to haunt him?

[A] Absolutely. Vancouver is expected to win a Stanley Cup. Roberto Luongo won a gold medal for Team Canada last year (in the Vancouver Olympics). Nobody is facing more pressure right now than him. The thing about Luongo, he is not always the most attentive goaltender. There are moments in games where he is caught unaware or unprepared. He also gets up very slowly. If he gets scored on, (the body language) is noticeable. He lays on the ice, he doesn’t get up quick. He laments. You can tell he looks defeated. One of the biggest things for a goaltender when it comes to mental toughness, you can not show any signs of being beat. If you give up a goal, you need to jump right back up. You need to put your head forward, stay calm, and you need to stay up. When other teams score on Luongo, they can see that he lays back. He is sometimes overdramatic about it. It causes a spark. It causes a team to say that we are getting under this guy’s skin, we should keep firing pucks from all angles.

[Q] Sometimes when I am looking at a goaltender through a large camera lens, kind of like watching a game through a telescope, you can almost see what a goaltender is thinking by their reaction to plays. Last year I could see Detroit goaltender Jimmy Howard questioning himself. Looking down after goals, staring at the goal post, trying to figure out what went wrong. This year I thought the Sharks could get to him mentally, but I thought he showed some mental toughness in the semifinals this year.

[A] He did. The big thing about Jimmy Howard this year, there was one play I think in game 5, he gave up two goals and after the second goal he made a move like he was going to smash his stick on the crossbar. He didn’t. You could see that he wanted to, but he held back. When he did that, it was a sign to me that he was maturing, learning the mental discipline he needs. If you let the emotions go in that situation, you quickly lose control and lose focus, and you can quickly lose the game. Look what happened, he didn’t smash his stick and Detroit stayed in the game and battled back to end up winning it. That was a huge step in Jimmy Howard’s career because it showed he is mentally maturing and he understands what it takes to win hockey games for the Red Wings.

[Q] There was also the game where there was a snow shower and he checked the guy in front of him. You thought ‘here we go again’, it is going to be like last year where they get under his skin. But the games were tight. Niemi had questions too after the first round, but his teammates believed in him and head coach Todd McLellan never waivered in his support. I have been able to examine some of the scouting publication’s (McKeen’s Hockey, Red Line Report) analysis of goaltenders at different levels of play, and through the 13 years of the blog I have been able to meet a few scouts and goaltending coaches. A lot of the terminology and the systems used by different coaches, teams, or goaltending schools differ widely.

[A] I mentioned earlier on twitter that goaltending analysis is very amorphic. Everyone has their own way of breaking down the goaltending position. I try to focus on simplifying it. When I break down goals against, I don’t use a lot of technical terms that a lot of coaches use (to make it more accessible). I try to simplify it so people can understand it in a way that makes sense to them. You will hear ‘heels on the oustide of the crease’ or ‘inside-out, outside-in (or VH, half-butterfly, etc). If you are a professional NHL goaltender, you are probably already very familiar with how to square up to a shot. Some amateur goaltending coaches over-complicate the position to a fault. Goaltenders are growing up to be robots. They are not reading and reacting to plays, they are using these techniques that they learned from their goalie coach because their goalie coach taught them there was only one way to do it. That is one thing that makes (Nashville Predators goaltending coach) Mitch Korn such a great goaltending coach. He adapts to what the goaltenders have as a skill set. When he worked with guys like Dominik Hasek in Buffalo, that was something he learned and experienced. He let Hasek do his thing, and Korn simply guided him along the way and made effective changes here or there. It worked.

[Update] Goaltending coach Melanson has brought subtle changes to Luongo’s game – The Hockey News from January 2011. The Hockey News also posted a video 1-on-1 interview with Luongo this season in two parts here and here.

[Update2] Iain MacIntyre profiled Roberto Luongo and the changes new goaltending coach Rollie Melanson had on his style of play back in February for the Vancouver Sun. In addition to covering the bases on Luongo’s hockey resume: his Vezina snub in 2003, his runner-up campaign for the Hart, Vezina and Pearson awards in 2007, and his Olympic gold for Team Canada on home ice in 2010; MacIntyre also delved into a couple of the specific changes Melanson made to Luongo’s game:

Luongo plays deeper in his crease and is on the ice more because Melanson believes it’s essential to seal the bottom of the net first. Luongo has changed his footwork and the way he moves laterally, and improved his puck handling and rebound control. “His butterfly was very good right from Day 1,” Melanson said. “His puck-tracking was very good. He just had to be a little more efficient in the paint. I think he has a better understanding of covering his percentages. The game does come to him and he understands now how to close down all the little short plays so he doesn’t get leaky”…

Melanson said managing emotions and maintaining focus is at least as important for goalies as highly charged skaters. An enduring snapshot of the Canucks’ second-round playoff losses to the Chicago Blackhawks is Luongo chirping and sparring with Dustin Byfuglien.

[Update3] Rinne’s glove: where rebounds go to die – Predators love second chances prevented by a glove hand that has roots in Finnish baseball and makes saves everywhere – In Goal Magazine.

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