If you’ve ever met me or seen me “in action” on a message board, you’d know that I challenge anyone who casually blames the goalie for nearly any goal. To me, that’s cheap and lazy. For something so choreographed and beautiful as hockey, is the only thing that causes a goal simply a mistake made by the goalie?
Of course, every once in awhile, a goalie really messes up and gives up a bad goal. They’re human and they make mistakes. It’s really not much different than a skater who misses a slam dunk wide open net.
But for nearly all of the goals scored in any hockey game at any level, the goal really isn’t “scored” as the puck crosses over the goal line; something happens a few seconds before the shot is even taken that leads to the goal. Goals are scored because something goes perfectly right or terribly wrong. Even for serious hockey fans, the game at time can look like a hodgepodge of every man for himself skating wherever the puck goes. Sometimes this does happen and you’ll either see something like bodies flying all around slot and no one really knowing where the puck is or the action take a crazy turn towards odd man rushes going up and down the ice. Coaches don’t like to see that and you’ll usually hear the announcers referring that both teams are looking to settle things down; i.e. get back to the game plan. It makes for some exciting hockey though.
Getting back to the topic, if you take the approach that the goalie is only one of six players on the ice whose job it is to prevent goals, you’ll start to see that many times, the goalie doesn’t have much of a chance. That of course doesn’t mean that all goalies are equal, but a goalie who consistently has a goals against average of near 3 won’t keep a job in the NHL for very long. And the difference between a pretty good save percentage of .910 and a very good .925 is 1.5%. That’s not a big, big difference.
A great illustration of how a goal is scored occurred in the Flyers/Rangers game on February 5. The video is below, but to set things up, the Flyers take the faceoff in the Rangers zone to start a 5 on 4 powerplay. Wayne Simmonds will eventually score the goal with assists from Scott Hartnell and Claude Giroux. The goal happens only a few second off the faceoff, so we’re not given so much to analyze that we get bogged down and lose ourselves.
Unfortunately, this is the only video I found of this goal, and it doesn’t include a very useful angle that comes from behind the net. So you might need to keep clicking back a few times so you can see everything piece by piece.
Like mentioned before, the Flyers have a 5 on 4 man advantage. Giroux wins the faceoff with a bit of help from his wingers straight back to Kimmo Timonen. Giroux moves halfway up the far boards and Jake Voracek mirrors him on the near boards. Hartnell goes to the slot and Simmonds goes directly to the front of the net to screen Lundqvist and create general havoc. The Flyers typically employ the “umbrella” on their powerplay where the lone defenseman on the ice holds a position near the bisector of the blue line and two forwards go along the boards, staying relatively high in the zone. The other two forwards play deep in the zone.
Timonen passes the puck to Giroux to the boards. The Flyers are now set up. They’re about to run a play that has worked like a charm multiple times in the past few games. It’s a no-look pass by Giroux to Scott Hartnell high in the slot shaded in the faceoff circle closer to Giroux that he one-times past the goalie with a quick snapshot. It shouldn’t surprise the Rangers that the Flyers are setting up for this play since they usually try it at least once a game. Right here, though, the Flyers have it set up quickly enough off the faceoff that the Rangers aren’t quite able to get their box the way they want it.
As Giroux takes the pass, Dan Girardi (#5) skates over to pressure him. Ryan McDonaugh’s responsibility is with Simmonds camped out in front of the net. With the two forwards still high after skating towards Timonen off the draw, Hartnell finds a soft spot in the Rangers defense, and with Giroux ready to make the pass, Hartnell is in the kill zone.
With both Girardi and Boyle pressuring Giroux, Hartnell pops into the faceoff circle near the dot to accept a pass from Giroux. Watch McDonaugh in front of the net. Believe it or not, NHL players do actually watch plenty of tape, so McDonaugh knows exactly what’s happening. He goes down to attempt to block the shot. It’s a good play by him.
Unfortunately for the Rangers, that good play quickly turns into the fatal error as Hartnell isn’t quite in a position to one-time the pass and the puck momentarily slips away from him. This may have been planned all along for Hartnell to pass it Simmonds (to change things up and trap the Rangers into defending what they think is the play that’s coming) or Hartnell may have just improvised since he knew the one-timer chance was gone. He even had Voracek sneaking in from the boards completely alone with his stick cocked and ready to fire. Hartnell chose to chip the puck towards the net and Simmonds. With McDonaugh down trying to block the shot and out of the play, it allows Simmonds to disengage from the defenseman and take a step away from the net.
The knuckler eventually finds its way to Simmonds who is alone with the puck in front of Lundqvist. Expecting the shot from Hartnell, Lundqvist can’t react quickly enough to get up and reset himself to make a reasonable attempt at a save. Simmonds wastes no time and deposits the puck high under the crossbar for the goal.
The Rangers did read the initial play correctly. The Flyers just had one up their sleeves.