In episode 3 of Rendez-vous CH, Canadiens goaltending coach, Stephane Waite, talks to host Marc Denis about the team's plan for Carey Price and Al Montoya, how he preps his charges, and what goes into the decision to make a goalie change in-game.
MARC DENIS: I'm joined by Canadiens goaltending coach, Stephane Waite. Stephane, the team has had a great start to the season. For a goalie coach, the work is even more concentrated and specific, but both of your goaltenders have had excellent starts as well.
STEPHANE WAITE: It would be hard not to be satisfied. It started with Carey [Price] at the World Cup. It was impressive to see him back at the top of his game over those two weeks. It took a few exhibition games during the World Cup for him to find his game shape and then it was impressive to see. I've been really happy with his start to the NHL season. Same for Al [Montoya], who had a great start. Carey missed our first three games, and Al did a great job. He helped give us some momentum at the beginning of the year. We're really happy. Seeing that from Al wasn't a surprise. I've liked his play for three years now. He's been one of the best back ups in the NHL for the last three years. We're very satisfied so far.
MD: You're satisfied with your goaltending tandem, but we also hear frequently about a "plan". With everything that's happened with Carey where he wasn't able to finish the last two seasons, to injuries and managing fatigue for a guy who played at the World Cup, is the plan established at this point and has that plan been followed since the start of the season?
SW: Yes. Obviously we didn't anticipate having Al start the first three games, but that's part of it where you may have to deal with things like injuries. Since then, we've followed the plan we had established. It's a plan that extends over the entire season, in an ideal world. I know exactly when Al is going to play this week, I know when he'll play in a month, and I know when he'll play in three months. But that's also in a "perfect world" scenario. There are things that can happen: injuries, bad performances, or even depending on the team's play and where we are in the standings, we might need to switch things if there's a "must win" game. We have a plan and we'd like to lighten Carey's load a little. The first goal is to make the playoffs, but then you also want to win when you get there and you need fresh goaltenders to do that.
MD: Would I be wrong to assume that the magic number falls somewhere between 55 and 60 games?
SW: No, that's exactly it. That's why it's so important to have a good back up - a guy like Al Montoya, who has a lot of experience. The better he is, the better it is for Carey. Because the better Al is, the more he'll play, and that helps Carey stay fresh for the playoffs. I've always said that your No. 2 goalie is probably the most important player on the team, because if he doesn't do his job, you won't make the playoffs. A good back up is that important.
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MD: You talked about changing the plan in exceptional circumstances. That's happened already and it will likely happen again during the season. How do you manage an urgent situation like that in a timely way? How do you decide whether or not to keep a goalie in the net when he's having a bad night or when the team isn't playing well or you just need to give the team a little spark? Michel Therrien talks a lot about working as a team, even among the coaching staff, so how do you approach a situation like that?
SW: There are a lot of factors, and you don't have much time to make a decision. First, I look at my goaltender; is he struggling? Is he shaky? Does the team have a chance to come back and get back into the game? If I see the team is playing well and we're getting a lot of scoring chances and we're behind by two or three goals, you'd look at that and say, "Ok let's make a change. This is the time." If the team isn't in it, or maybe you're playing the next night, that's something else to consider. Is it a young guy or a veteran? Those are things to look at. You'd want to protect a young guy, but you know your veteran can handle a little more and will be able to move on from it. Is it your starter or your back up in the net? You'd want to protect your starter. There are a lot of things you have to analyze in a space of about five minutes between periods. There's a lot of thought that goes into it. When we're deciding to make a change, I like to talk to my goalie between periods to see how he feels and if he's comfortable staying in or not. That's important. The last thing you ever want to do is embarrass your goaltender, whether he's your starter or your back up. You never embarrass them. We had a situation this year in Columbus that was one of the hardest decisions I've ever had to make as a goaltending coach in 35 years. It was tough, but we had good reasons for it. Like I told Michel, there wasn't a "good" decision to make, just the "least bad" decision, and that's what we did. That kind of thing happens and you have to live with it, but it's always touchy.
MD: We've talked about communication and managing ice time as part of a goalie coach's work, but there's also the on-ice instruction. The technical aspect of the job. It seems like that evolves incredibly fast. When you're working with an athlete like Carey Price who's already at the top of game, how do you help him progress and evolve in terms of his technique?
SW: There's a lot of observing that goes into it. I love watching other goalies. When I'm at home on a night off, I'll always watch other games and focus on other goalies. You'll spot new tendencies or techniques and then I'll come in and talk to my goalies about that. I'll ask Carey, "What do you think of what this goalie is doing?" and things like that. There are pros and cons to everything. I try to make sure I'm evolving, as well. I don't want to be an old school goalie coach. I've been doing this for 35 years so it would be easy to sit back and keep doing what's worked in the past, but if you do that, you'll get passed over eventually. You have to keep adapting and keep looking for new ideas. I don't have a monopoly on what's right. Far from it. Everyone copies each other a little; you watch what others are doing differently. The other thing that's important, though, is that your goaltender feels comfortable. There are things Carey does on the ice that Al isn't as comfortable doing and vice versa. For instance, Al likes to stay on his feet in bad angle situations, but Carey isn't as comfortable and prefers reverse-VH or one-knee down. I have to respect things like that and work around it. You have to adjust to your goalies.
MD: Your role covers working with the two goalies here in Montreal and with the goaltenders in the organization, but a goaltending coach also has role when it comes to creating the game plan in terms of scouting opposing goalies. I'm not looking for exact numbers, but how much do your forwards use that information to prepare when they're facing a top goalie?
SW: I create a written report about the opposing goaltenders ahead of every game and that gets posted in the room. Something I learned during my time in Chicago was to respect that not every player wants that information. Some guys want to consult it and it helps them prepare, whereas others feel it removes the instinct from their game. They'll be in a game and be thinking, "The report said I should shoot low blocker," but their instinct is to do something else and they get mixed up. During the season we post the report in the room and they're free to consult it or not, but in the playoffs, it's pushed on them more. We do video sessions and presentations about each goaltender, because you face the same goalie four to seven times in a row so it's important to be more in-depth in the playoffs.