It is one of the most exciting moments in a game, the skater out ahead of the crowd, the puck in front of him as he quickly closes in on the net, ready to go one-on-one with an awaiting goalkeeper. How much will the goalie come out from the net? Will the skater try to deke or juke him and score from the crease or try a shot from further out? Either a goal or a dramatic save offers the prospect of glory for one of the combatants, disappointment for the other.
It’s called a breakaway and it can turn the tide of a game in a snap, whether it comes in the middle of play, on a penalty shot or on a shootout. This season, because of the NHL’s addition of the shootout tiebreaker after two teams are deadlocked through overtime, the one-on-one has taken on even more significance. Each team’s mastery of the breakaway can mean the difference in vying for an all-important point in the standings.
Four Ducks forwards discussed their strategy for scoring a breakaway goal, while goalie J.S. Giguere revealed his method for preventing them.
Joffrey Lupul: First of all, your mindset has got to be that you’re going to score. That’s the most important thing. You’ve got to be confident going in, thinking of the one’s you’ve made, not the one’s you’ve missed. If you’re thinking of the last one you missed, you probably don’t have too good of a chance.
Rob Niedermayer: I think you just want to try and catch the goalie off guard by shooting it when he’s not expecting it. That’s the big thing. You kind of have an idea of a move that you want, but sometimes it doesn’t open up and you have to ad-lib and take what’s there.
Teemu Selanne: I think the main thing is to see how far out the goalie comes. That’s when I decide what I’m going to do. If he comes out, then I have a chance to deke. But if he stays in, it’s time to shoot. That’s pretty much the only thing I’m thinking about. Then I have a couple options of what I’m going to do.
Andy McDonald: If the goalie is backing into his net, you want to look at how fast he’s backing up. Based on that, you can vary your speed. The objective is to get him off his angle a little bit. You could either get him backing up too fast and giving you the opportunity to shoot or maybe he’s overchallenging and giving you the opportunity to deke.
Lupul: Usually by the time the shootout comes, the ice isn’t always great, so shooting is usually your best option rather than making a deke or something. After you see what the goalie is doing, hopefully your instincts can kind of take over. In the shootout you’re looking all the way at the goalie and on a breakaway in the middle of the game you’re worried about the guy right behind you. In the shootout you have a little more time to think.
McDonald: Sometimes it’s an advantage to have no time to think about it. I’d rather be in a game situation, because a lot of it is just instinctive, where you’re not really thinking. In the shootout, it’s staged and you can go at any speed you want, but it’s a little more challenging because you can outthink yourself. Sometimes it’s not the best thing in hockey to be thinking. It’s better to just react.
Selanne: A lot of times you see so many options, but if you’re thinking of too many of them you’re in trouble.
McDonald: I think it’s kind of unique to each player. Guys end up doing what they’re comfortable with, a move they’ve always practiced. Then you get into the goalie you’re against, his tendencies. But sometimes you’re not able to pre-scout on certain guys.
Lupul: Sometimes you get a chance to watch the tendencies of the goalie, if someone has shot before you. Or you see shootout goals on TV and you what some goalies like to do. You see what he’s giving you.
Selanne: Good goal-scorers know the other goalie’s style and their weaknesses.
In his eight seasons in the NHL, Giguere has faced his share of onrushing skaters and turned away countless shots in one-on-one battles. He offered his point of view from the other side of the ice.
Giguere: I want to be pretty aggressive and try and make him make a mistake. I don’t want to give him too many options, so I don’t want to be too deep in my net. You want to try to be at the same speed as the shooter and not be too deep as he makes his decision. You’ve also got to be confident in yourself, knowing that you are going to win that one-on-one battle. It’s a challenge, and I like challenges.
This article appears in the most recent issue of Ducks Digest, the official game day program of the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim. You can pick up a free Ducks Digest at all Mighty Ducks home games at the Arrowhead Pond.