Vasilevskiy, Quick among biggest early surprises
Former coach Marcoux looks at goaltending landscape month into seasonby David Marcoux / Special to NHL.com
The Coaches Room is a weekly column by one of four former NHL coaches and assistants who will turn their critical gaze to the game and explain it through the lens of a teacher. Jim Corsi, David Marcoux, Paul MacLean and Joe Mullen will take turns providing insight.
In this edition, Marcoux, former goalie coach for the Carolina Hurricanes and the Calgary Flames, looks at the up and downs NHL goalies across the League experienced in the first month of the season.
NHL teams have streaks throughout an 82-game season and it's not realistic to think that goaltenders won't have their own peaks and valleys.
A month into the 2017-18 season is a great time to take a snapshot to assess which NHL goaltenders got out of the gate successfully and were part of the solution for their respective teams.
Figuring out potential reasons for great starts or slow beginnings for NHL goalies can depend on many factors: health, new coaching staffs (Arizona, Dallas), different systems and philosophies of play, new personnel (Montreal, Chicago), chemistry and defensive-zone coordination, as well as new goalie tandems (Winnipeg, Calgary, Carolina).
Here's a look at some of the goaltenders that got off to fast starts:
Andrei Vasilevskiy, Tampa Bay Lightning
(11-1-1, 2.52 goals-against average, .924 save percentage)
To get a puck past Vasilevskiy this season, you will need to hang around the crease and hope for a rebound to quickly roof under the crossbar. Most of the time, Vasilevskiy plays a very quiet, low-coverage-first style in which economy of movement, squareness and positioning are key assets. He is also blessed with above-average flexibility in his hips and shoulders, allowing him to reach or stretch during desperation-save situations.
The importance of the synergy between a goaltender and his defensemen can't be understated. Tampa Bay has this strong synergy. Defensemen Victor Hedman, Anton Stralman and Brayden Coburn are each in tune with what Vasilevskiy wants and needs. Even newly acquired Dan Girardi has been able to cover back-door options and block shots without obstructing the view of the goaltender.
Furthermore, Vasilevskiy and his goaltending coach, Frantz Jean, have been together since Vasilevskiy was 17. Jean has been instrumental in reinforcing simple technical details like setting Vasilevskiy's feet for the shot ("hard push and hard stop") and maximizing net coverage by constantly reminding him to challenge shooters at the top of the blue paint.
Another evolution in Vasilevskiy's game is his ability to handle and move the puck accurately, having learned to read the forecheck from his years watching Ben Bishop.
Video: CBJ@TBL: Vasilevskiy stops Panarin's one-timer in OT
Jonathan Quick, Los Angeles Kings
(9-2-1, 2.06 goals-against average, .937 save percentage)
It's great to see Quick healthy again and dominating. A healthy Quick allows the Kings players to trust that under the more attacking system employed by coach John Stevens they have the goaltending that will cover up for the occasional breakdown. Quick is very active and dynamic, so good health allows him to integrate to his posts in a reverse "VH."
Video: LAK@ANA: Quick stops Wagner with perfect poke check
Sergei Bobrovsky, Columbus Blue Jackets
(8-3-1, 2.38 goals-against average, .921 save percentage)
Bobrovsky has been steady again this season. What is scary for opposing teams is that he still has room to clean up a few extra rebounds and tighten up his game to return to the level of domination that earned him the Vezina Trophy in 2017. His ability to track the puck with his eyes is second to none in the NHL.
Video: CBJ@NYR: Bobrovsky robs Zuccarello with pad save
Connor Hellebuyck, Winnipeg Jets
(8-0-2, 2.12 goals-against average, .936 save percentage)
Hellebuyck has yet to lose a game in regulation and the Jets have become a steady team in front of that steady goaltending. Hellebuyck seems to have taken a much-needed step in his career and has taken sole possession of the Jets crease ahead of newly acquired Steve Mason. His confidence and consistency now seems evident. That's a big step for a young goaltender.
Video: WPG@PIT: Hellebuyck flashes the leather for save
Jake Allen of the St. Louis Blues, Mike Smith of the Calgary Flames, Cory Schneider of the New Jersey Devils and Pekka Rinne of the Nashville Predators are among the other goalies that have played well in the first month.
Other goaltenders have found the going a bit more difficult throughout the first month and are looking to get back on track.
Carey Price, Montreal Canadiens
(3-7-1, 3.77 goals-against average, .877 save percentage)
In the offseason, Price signed a contract extension (eight years, $84 million, $10.5 million average annual value) that made him the highest-paid goalie in the NHL. In coaching many years against Price, I would often see his ability to get into opponents' heads, reaching a level of dominance that would simply paralyze any forward trying to score. But Price has not seemed himself early this season.
Analyzing Montreal's games to date, it's clear the chemistry and communication between Price and his teammates is not yet at its best. Changes to the group -- defensemen Andrei Markov and Alexei Emelin have departed and Karl Alzner, Victor Mete and Brandon Davidson are new -- seem to have created a lack of trust in the defensive zone that leads to doubt in Price's mind. Hopefully, the lower-body injury that sidelined Price this week is very minor and his time away will allow him to reset his confidence and find his normal swagger.
Video: MTL@MIN: Price turns away Kunin's shot with shoulder
Cam Talbot, Edmonton Oilers
(5-7-1, 2.99 goals-against average, .909 save percentage)
Since starting the season with a shutout against Calgary, Talbot and the Oilers have struggled to find the dominance shown last season. In watching their defensive-zone habits, some unlucky bounces, combined with an atrocious penalty kill that is No. 31 in the NHL, have led to poor results. I believe that if the Oilers defensemen continue to try to "front shots" and block all pucks near Talbot, as opposed to boxing out opposing players, the Oilers will continue to struggle at keeping pucks out of their own net. Boxing out would allow Talbot to increase his save percentage by tracking more unobstructed shots from the points.
Video: NJD@EDM: Talbot makes glove save on Stafford
Steve Mason, Winnipeg Jets
(0-3-1, 4.84 goals-against average, .872 save percentage)
Winnipeg solidified its goaltending during the offseason but not how most expected. Mason has had obvious difficulties adjusting to his new team. Hard work in practice will be how Mason can prove his worth to coach Paul Maurice.
Video: WPG@CBJ: Mason denies Atkinson's intuitive effort
Still other goaltenders started slowly, but have found their way onto the right path more recently.
Matt Murray, Pittsburgh Penguins
(9-3-1, 2.90 goals-against average, .906 save percentage)
Pittsburgh had a road-heavy October, which probably led to some difficult matchups. The back-to-back Stanley Cup-winning goalie has been the subject of extensive scouting by opponents. The Penguins waived Antti Niemi, which turned out to be a failed experiment, and promising prospect Tristan Jarry is Murray's backup.
Video: WPG@PIT: Murray makes blocker save on Ehlers
Corey Crawford, Chicago Blackhawks
(7-5-0, 1.77 goals-against average, .945 save percentage)
Crawford had back-to-back shutouts against Philadelphia and Minnesota last week. His numbers have been steadily improving since the first week of the season.
Video: MTL@CHI: Crawford uses glove to deny Drouin's wrister
I think goaltending in the second month of the season will be revealing for the playoff picture.
Teams like Tampa Bay and Los Angeles will need continued good health. Montreal and Winnipeg, not certain playoff teams by any means, can be thankful their backup goalies are giving them a fighting chance.