Stephane Waite is a lot like the position he teaches: constantly evolving.
That's probably a good thing, because Waite's task after being introduced as the Montreal Canadiens' new goaltending coach on Thursday will be much different than the job he left with the Chicago Blackhawks.
With Carey Price, the No. 1 in Montreal, it isn't about exceeding low expectations. It's about meeting and managing the opposite end of the spectrum.
With Price, it isn't about getting the most out of a goaltender who doesn't always look pretty. It's about getting enough out of one who often looks perfect.
Unlike Niemi, who had unique-looking but elite skills, and Crawford, who wasn't always smooth but managed to be in the right spot far more often than not, Price already plays the position like a how-to DVD on goaltending, moving smoothly around his crease whether he's up on his skates or down on his knees.
"I like a goalie that is technically strong, and Carey is one of the best technical goalies in the League," Waite told reporters in Montreal after being introduced Thursday as the successor to Pierre Groulx, who was let go after Price struggled late in the season and into the Stanley Cup Playoffs. "Pierre did a great job with Carey."
But good technique isn't always enough. Among the things Waite talks about in his coaching evolution is an increased emphasis on battle and compete levels.
"I've changed a lot the way I coach the last four years," he told InGoal Magazine in 2010, admitting he wasn't originally a fan of then-Blackhawks goalie Marty Turco but came to appreciate and learn from his more instinctual read-and-react style. "It doesn't have to be pretty. I don't care about that anymore. I need a better reactor, even if it's not very cute. If you battle, it's important."
Waite, who may incorporate more react-and-compete drills into practice than Price is used to, reiterated that belief with the Montreal media Thursday.
"I like a goalie who can also leave his technique behind -- he shouldn't be a robot," he said. "I like a goalie who can use his instincts; it's very important, and I feel it's been lost for a lot of goalies in the League because they're too worried about technique."
Not that Waite was talking about big changes for Price, who was playing up to his pedigree as the No. 5 pick in the 2005 NHL Draft early in the 2012-13 season, earning widespread praise as one of the League's best young goalies amid plenty of talk he'd be starting for Canada at the 2014 Olympics.
"I have an idea of what I want to do with Carey, little things," Waite said of the 25-year-old. "They won't be big changes. Carey's one of the good goalies in the League. I'm not here to change him from A to Z. He doesn't need to be changed from A to Z, far from it. He has qualities, and I'm going to work around those qualities."
By the time a late-season slump spilled into the playoffs, however, those qualities were harder to see as Price uncharacteristically over-challenged shooters.
It was at times reminiscent of Crawford's struggles last season, his first as the No. 1 in Chicago. Crawford chased the play aggressively, rather than letting it come to him, so Waite approached him about reeling in his initial depth in the crease, using video of conservatively positioned New York Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist to make his points about the benefits of shorter movements from one save position to the next, and easier recoveries from within the blue ice.
"It's a matter of balance and being in control -- not too aggressive, but not too passive either," Waite said.
Crawford struggled in the 2012 playoffs after making those changes late in the season, but after another year of reinforcement with Waite -- and some give and take that saw the goalie find his personal comfort zone and challenge a little more in certain situations -- was a staple en route to the Blackhawks hoisting the Cup.
Rather than starting to look for new answers anytime something went wrong -- like challenging more when the Boston Bruins had success targeting his glove side in the Cup Final -- Crawford stuck with what he'd done all year. Some might call it mental strength, but coaching can play a role.
"I believe very strongly in positive reinforcement," Waite said. "Every day in my video sessions with my goalies, I would say 70 percent are things they do well and 30 percent are adjustments or things they need to correct or they need to watch for. I believe in that, that he sees how good he can be, how he's square, how his rebound control is good, how he's technically good, how good he is.
"It builds confidence, and that's important."
It can also help build consistency.
"When a goaltender feels good, when everything is clear in his head and he's reacting, that's when he's at his best," Waite said. "When a goalie starts thinking, he's not sure because he thinks one thing and his coach thinks another, that creates hesitation, and that's the worst thing for a goaltender to be caught in between the two. With us, it's going to be clear."
For Waite, that clarity typically includes some give and take with his goalies. It's not a dictatorship, which should be welcome news to Price, who sometimes clashed with Groulx's predecessor, current Vancouver Canucks goalie coach Roland Melanson, over Melanson's stricter, more conservative positional beliefs.
"What's important, and the same applies to [Canadiens backup Peter Budaj], is they feel comfortable with what we're working on," Waite said. "I won't impose anything they aren't comfortable with, that's the worst thing you can do."
That said, with two Stanley Cup rings in the past four years, Waite's suggestions should carry weight and authority with Price, which was among the reasons management in Montreal wanted a coach with a strong NHL pedigree.
They have one in Waite. Now he has to prove he can get what's expected from a goalie with the same.
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